PHY1030 Practical Physics and IT Skills 2017-18
Dr F.Y. Ogrin and Dr J. Bertolotti
Delivery Weeks: T1:01-05,07-12, T2:01-05, T3:06
Level: 4 (NQF)
Credits: 15 NICATS / 7.5 ECTS
Enrolment: 8 students (approx)


The practical laboratory work in this module provides a broad foundation in experimental physics, upon which experimental work for the Stage 2 year and project work in Stage 3 builds. Students will also learn to produce high-quality typeset reports using LaTeX and a stylesheet. The module also introduces the student to the GNU Octave numerical mathematics package. The Octave language is essentially the same as the MATLAB™ language which is widely used in commercial and research environments for numerical modelling. The final component of this module is the PHY0000 Communication and Key Skills course held in 'Opportunities Week', i.e. T1:06.

Module Aims

Experiment is one of the central activities of a scientist. Experimental observations form the basis for new hypotheses, and also test scientific theories. In this module, you will learn to understand and apply the experimental method, develop your ability to make reliable measurements and report them in an effective and ethical manner.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

A student who has passed this module should be able to:

Syllabus Plan

Part A: Practical Laboratory

Students are provided with a Laboratory Manual in which the experiments for this module are summarised. There is some choice of which experiments are undertaken. Each experiment is described in detail in a 2-4 page laboratory script.

General supervision and assistance are available in the laboratory from the demonstrators. Each demonstrator monitors the progress of the assigned pairs, taking a pastoral role and reporting any problems to the Module Coordinator. Feedback is given on each experiment during a 15-minute marking session with a demonstrator. For the oral presentation in the Student Conference, the assessment is made by all demonstrators with partial input from the students.

Note: The Communication and Key Skills content and activities are described in the PHY0000 component description.

Part B: IT Skills

  1. Introduction
    1. Use of the Exeter Learning Environment.
    2. The Apple Macintosh
      1. Graphical User Interface
      2. using the Mac OS X system
    3. Network home directories and the file-server
      1. understanding the local file-server.
  2. LaTeX
    1. Using LaTeX to create a simple document
      1. Text
      2. Equations
      3. Tables
      4. Figures
    2. Using a stylesheet to produce high-quality experiment reports
    3. Use of Octave with a template for plotting, linear regression analysis, statistical analysis, error bars
  3. Octave
    1. Introduction
      Range of applications, platform and implementation specific differences, relationship of Octave to MATLAB.
    2. Fundamentals
      User interface, definitions, data structure, commands and functions, matrix operations, 'help' system.
    3. Input/Output and analysis
      Creating files and loading data, working with data, basic plotting, saving workspace ('*.mat' files).
    4. Numerical integration
      Using numerical methods for calculation of integrals
    5. Fitting
      The least-squares criterion, fitting polynomial and exponential functions, 'polyfit' and 'polyval', fitting data with a linear function, extracting polynomial coefficients, plotting the fitting function, errors.
    6. Programming
      Scripts and functions, creating and executing '*.m' files, basic programming: using 'for' and 'while' loops, conditional statements 'if', 3-D graphics.

Learning and Teaching

Learning Activities and Teaching Methods

Description Study time KIS type
4×1-hour lectures 4 hours SLT
1×4-hour self-study package 4 hours GIS
11×3-hour practical laboratory sessions 33 hours SLT
6-hour student conference 6 hours SLT
3×1-day communications skills workshops 21 hours SLT
11×2-hour computer laboratory sessions (IT) 22 hours SLT
11×2-hour IT Skills homework 22 hours GIS
Reading and private study 38 hours GIS


Weight Form Size When ILOS assessed Feedback
0% Data analysis homework One 4-hour problems set Week T1:02 (Mon) 4, 14 Written and verbal
15% Mid-Term IT Skills Test 1 90 mins Week T1:09 1, 5, 16, 17 Written and verbal
15% Mid-Term IT Skills Test 2 90 mins Week T1:12 1, 5, 16, 17 Written and verbal
20% 11 × IT Skills assignments 2 hours in class + 2 hours homework each Weekly T1:01-05,07-12 1, 5, 16, 17 Written and verbal
10% Experiments, recorded in the notebook Two notebook assessments ca 4-week intervals in T1:01-05,06-12 2-4, 6-10, 12-15, 17, 18 Written and verbal
20% Experiments, written up as formal experiment reports One 1500-word report Weeks T2:03 2-4, 6-10, 12-15, 17, 18 Written and verbal
10% Group oral presentation for the Student Conference 20 minutes Week T2:05 11, 12 Written and verbal
10% Communications and key skills component PHY0000 3 days Week T1:06 19 Written and verbal

Notes: Refer to the Undergraduate Handbook for details and marking criteria. Briefly, laboratory notebooks and reports are marked in one-to-one discussion between the student and a demonstrator; oral presentations involve moderated peer assessment.


The following list is offered as an indication of the type & level of information that students are expected to consult. Further guidance will be provided by the Module Instructor(s).

Core text:

Supplementary texts:


Further Information

Prior Knowledge Requirements

Pre-requisite Modules none
Co-requisite Modules Vector Mechanics (PHY1021), Introduction to Astrophysics (PHY1022), Waves and Optics (PHY1023) and Properties of Matter (PHY1024)


Re-assessment is not available except when required by referral or deferral.

Original form of assessment Form of re-assessment ILOs re-assessed Time scale for re-assessment

Notes: Re-assessment is not available for this module.

KIS Data Summary

Learning activities and teaching methods
SLT - scheduled learning & teaching activities 86 hrs
GIS - guided independent study 64 hrs
PLS - placement/study abroad 0 hrs
Total 150 hrs
Summative assessment
Coursework 40%
Written exams 0%
Practical exams 60%
Total 100%


IoP Accreditation Checklist
  • XX-01 Experimental work in a practical laboratory
  • XX-02 IT Skills
Availability unrestricted
Distance learning NO
Keywords Physics; Data; File; Experience; Function; Laboratory; Stage; Errors; Methods; Latex; Octave; Analysis.
Created 01-Oct-10
Revised N/A