Physics 251 - Experimental Atomic Physics

Eugeniy E. Mikhailov

Irina Novikova

Fall 2020

General class information

Syllabus html pdf

Instructors and TAs

Section Instructor TA
Wednesday, 2pm Eugeniy E. Mikhailov Ben Skopic, Carlos Pernas
Thursday, 9am Irina Novikova Ben Skopic, Carlos Pernas
Thursday, 2pm Eugeniy E. Mikhailov Ben Skopic, Carlos Pernas

Lab schedules

For the first couple of weeks, we will be meeting via zoom 97205499610 at the regular lab meeting time. This zoom link will work for all sections.

Homework and pre-lab assignments

Submission instructions

To submit a lab report or, when applicable, a pre-lab assignment proceed to gradescope page. Mark all pages as belonging to the report assignment. This option will appear after the pdf file is uploaded.

Finish before Week 02 class

It was great to meet everyone this week. Even though Zoom was not as nice as in-person conversations, and we were not able to bribe you with candies, we really enjoyed the interactions.

The goal of this email is to recap what we’ve learned last week and set the goals for the next week. So this week everyone started to design their own lab for measuring the value of pi. We discussed possible sources of experimental errors and uncertainties, analyzed the effect of the measurement imperfections on the calculated results and figured out some ways to make the measurements more accurate. The homework challenge is to attempt to measure pi up to the third significant figure (i.e., with the relative uncertainty approaching 10 − 3). It’s ok if you won’t be able to do that, but thinking about ways to improve your results will be very useful. Also, please read the brief summary of error analysis (error handling and error propagation on the course website to remind yourself about what we discussed in class.

Next week we will be working on preparing the lab report. Once you have mastered your best experimental procedure, collected the data and figured out the uncertainties, you need to present your findings to the world. In this course we will be using LaTeX to prepare the reports. While it takes some time to get used to, it is a wonderful environment for scientific writing. You can install LaTeX on your computer (there are some pointers on the website), but if you are new to it, it is much easier to start with the on-line free version called Overleaf. Please check it out. If you have time, it may be helpful to watch some introductions to LaTeX, but we will start from scratch in class.

We also ask you to start getting familiar with Matlab (or whatever software you will be using for doing calculations and making graphs). We recommend you use Matlab if you do not already know how to accomplish these tasks in, say, Python or Mathematica. Follow the directions in the Matlab section of the course website. We will not be using Matlab much next week, but it is a good idea to start early, so we are all ready to go during the week 3.

Finally, please register for Piazza This is a great way to connect with your classmates and ask all class-related questions. As we discussed this week, if one person has a question, it is likely others may have a similar one, and we can have a discussion that involves everyone in class, who wants to listen. And feel free to leave comments about how excited you are about the class!

Note: in the future the information about pre-lab preparation will be posted on the course website.

Your professors.

Finish before Week 03 class

Just a reminder: the lab report submission is 1 minutes before your section starts. Please submit reports via Gradescope class page. Once your upload the pdf file with the report, click on every page as belonging to exercise “1: Lab report”.

We will heavily use Matlab during this week lab. Please make sure that either you installed your own Matlab or you can start its cloud version. Feel free to refresh your Matlab, but make sure you know the material outlined in first 3 videos at Matlab tutorial page.

We will use 4-point probe measurement. Carlos have prepared a video tutorial. Please watch it.

Link to the superconductivity lab is available at the schedule page. There are some additional links.

Q and A

If you have a question about the class which is not yet covered here. Please use Piazza class page to ask for help.

Class materials

Video Tutorials

Superconductivity lab

Videos of superconductivity experiments

Lab reports preparation

Lab books

Lab book content

A few pages from an actual lab book (courtesy of N. Belcher)

Data analysis

Matlab users


The university provide license for Matlab but you need to request it. Proceed to W&M Matlab page to request it.

Matlab comes comes with many toolboxes, among them for this class you need

  • Curve Fitting Toolbox

The rest is optional and can be installed later.

Matlab should be installed in every campus computer lab and there is also web based version. But it might be good to have your own.


See Matlab video tutorials.

There is also one page Matlab tutorial for a very quick introduction to Matlab fitting.

If you need a more advance/nonlinear fitting hints. Have a look at fitting introduction materials of Phys-256 class which I taught. You will probably find super useful the fitting chapter from my book “Programming with MATLAB for Scientists: A Beginner’s Introduction” book which is available at amazon and at the CRC Press.

Python users

If you are novice Python user, a good start is the web colaboratory interface