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PH20105: Experimental physics and computing 2

[Page last updated: 05 August 2021]

Academic Year: 2021/2
Owning Department/School: Department of Physics
Credits: 12 [equivalent to 24 CATS credits]
Notional Study Hours: 240
Level: Intermediate (FHEQ level 5)
Academic Year
Assessment Summary: PR 100%
Assessment Detail:
  • PRACTICAL (PR 100%)
Supplementary Assessment:
Like-for-like reassessment (where allowed by programme regulations)
Requisites: Before taking this module you must take PH10007 AND take PH10102
Description: Aims:
The aims of this unit are to develop further student confidence and competence in experimental laboratory skills, data processing, written and oral presentation skills and the use of scientific computer packages. A further aim is to reinforce elements of second level Physics units by providing experimental examples in these areas. The unit also aims to introduce and develop structured programming skills in a high-level language as a tool for the numerical solution of physical problems.

Learning Outcomes:
While taking this unit the student should be able to:
* successfully conduct short experiments, following written guidelines, on various topics relating to physics and analogue electronics;
* plan, design and carry out a group project consisting of an experimental investigation;
* write detailed scientific reports describing experimental work, displaying an appropriate standard of presentation, style, structure, attention to detail and analysis;
* prepare and deliver an oral presentation based on the group physics project ;
* carry out the structured design of a computer program using flowcharts or pseudocode;
* give examples of the introduction of rounding errors due to numerical techniques and methods for minimising such problems;
* write computer programs in a high level structured language including arithmetic expressions, loops, branching instructions and arrays;
* describe and apply methods for testing and debugging programs;
* use numerical techniques to solve physics problems.

Written Communication T/F A, Spoken Communication T/F A, Numeracy T/F A, Data Acquisition, Handling, and Analysis T/F A, Information Technology T/F A, Problem Solving T/F A, Working as part of a group T/F A, Practical laboratory skills T/F A, Project planning/management T/F A.

Experimental Laboratory:
Students will be introduced to devices, instrumentation and measurement systems as found in a modern research environment. A combination of short benchmark experiments and longer open ended projects will be employed. Students will routinely work in pairs but larger groups of four or five will be the norm in longer projects. Experiments will be drawn from topics encompassing optical physics, x-rays, electromagnetism, analogue electronics, instrumentation and ultrasonics. These activities will be underpinned by workshops on writing and oral presentation skills and scientific computer packages. The laboratory work is organised in three four-week sessions, focussing on one-day experiments, an extended physics project, and electronics, respectively.
Computer Programming:
Introduction to numerical analysis: Use of computers in numerical analysis.
Basic vocabulary of computers: Compilation, linking. Variable types. Generic control structures; loops and conditionals. Input and ouput. Arrays. Floating point round-off and truncation errors. Maximum integer size.
Syntax of the C language: Intrinsic functions of C. Operators and precedences.
Introduction to UNIX: Drives, files and directories in UNIX systems. Essential UNIX commands and editing.
Applications: Root finding. Function evaluation via series expansion and look-up tables. Matrix diagonalisation, normal mode problems.
Structured programming: Subprograms, modules, libraries, pointers, structures in C, inheritances, complex numbers.
Applications: Transfer matrix and/or shooting methods.
Introduction to MATLAB programming.

Programme availability:

PH20105 is a Designated Essential Unit on the following programmes:

Department of Physics
  • USPH-AFB01 : BSc(Hons) Physics (Year 2)
  • USPH-AAB02 : BSc(Hons) Physics with Study year abroad (Year 2)
  • USPH-AKB02 : BSc(Hons) Physics with Year long work placement (Year 2)
  • USPH-AFB10 : BSc(Hons) Physics with Astrophysics (Year 2)
  • USPH-AAB10 : BSc(Hons) Physics with Astrophysics with Study year abroad (Year 2)
  • USPH-AKB10 : BSc(Hons) Physics with Astrophysics with Year long work placement (Year 2)
  • USPH-AFM02 : MPhys(Hons) Physics (Year 2)
  • USPH-AFM04 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Research placement (Year 2)
  • USPH-AAM03 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Study year abroad (Year 2)
  • USPH-AAM12 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Study year abroad (Year 2)
  • USPH-AKM03 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Professional Placement (Year 2)
  • USPH-AKM04 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Professional and Research Placements (Year 2)
  • USPH-AFM10 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Astrophysics (Year 2)
  • USPH-AFM11 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Astrophysics with Research placement (Year 2)
  • USPH-AAM10 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Astrophysics with Study year abroad (Year 2)
  • USPH-AAM14 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Astrophysics with Study year abroad (Year 2)
  • USPH-AKM10 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Astrophysics with Professional Placement (Year 2)
  • USPH-AKM11 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Astrophysics with Professional and Research Placements (Year 2)
  • USPH-AAM15 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Astrophysics with Study year abroad and Research Placement (Year 2)
  • USPH-AAM13 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Study year abroad and Research Placement (Year 2)


  • This unit catalogue is applicable for the 2021/22 academic year only. Students continuing their studies into 2022/23 and beyond should not assume that this unit will be available in future years in the format displayed here for 2021/22.
  • Programmes and units are subject to change in accordance with normal University procedures.
  • Availability of units will be subject to constraints such as staff availability, minimum and maximum group sizes, and timetabling factors as well as a student's ability to meet any pre-requisite rules.
  • Find out more about these and other important University terms and conditions here.