Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2022-2023 (archived)


Department: Physics


Type Open Level 1 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2022/23 Module Cap Location Durham


  • A-Level Physics and A-Level Mathematics.


  • Foundations of Physics 1 (PHYS1122) AND ((Single Mathematics A (MATH1561) and Single Mathematics B (MATH1571)) or (Linear Algebra I (MATH1071) and Calculus I (MATH1061))).

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • This module is designed primarily for students studying Department of Physics or Natural Science degree programmes.
  • It provides basic experimental and key skills required by physicists, and should be taken by all students intending to study practical physics beyond Level 1.
  • Using experiments in physics as the vehicle, the module provides a structured introduction to laboratory skills development, with particular emphasis on measurement uncertainty, data analysis and written and oral communication skills.
  • To teach a scientific computing language.
  • To introduce the idea of scientific enterprise.
  • To provide students with experience in scientific communication.
  • To provide students with opportunities to know more about what the University Library offers and to learn about the career opportunities open to them after graduation.


  • The syllabus contains:
  • Errors in practical work: systematic and random errors, combination of errors, common sense in errors.
  • Electronic document preparation.
  • Use of spreadsheets in data analysis
  • Developing a scientific style of writing, and writing for a non-specialist audience.
  • Good practice in maintaining laboratory notebooks.
  • Information literacy, including introduction to sources of reference material.
  • Experimental laboratory: safety in the laboratory, skills through practice, introduction to instrumentation.
  • Introductory experiments in physics.
  • Extended experiments in physics.
  • Introduction to programming in a scientific computer language and application to simple computational tasks.
  • Presentation of data.
  • An enterprise seminar.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Students will have gained a working knowledge of the treatment of errors in laboratory work.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students will know the constituents of a scientific style of writing and will be able to apply this to produce a clear scientific report including: theoretical background, experimental description, presentation and analysis of results, interpretation and evaluation, and lay summary.
  • They will be aware of a variety of reference sources and know how to use them effectively.
  • They will have acquired practical competence and accuracy in carrying out experimental procedures including measurement, use of apparatus and recording of results.
  • They will have a working knowledge of a scientific computing language.
Key Skills:
  • They will be able to use computer software to write reports and to analyse data.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Teaching will be by lectures, practicals, exercises, workshops, computing exercises and an information literacy session.
  • The lectures will provide the means to give a concise, focused presentation of the theoretical material on error analysis and on data analysis.
  • The lectures will also provide essential information on good practice in laboratory notebook keeping, report writing, the use of spreadsheets and giving oral presentations.
  • The computing lectures give an introduction to the basic principles of scientific computing and the computing workshops and exercises give practice in applying these principles.
  • When appropriate the lectures will also be supported by the distribution of written material, or by information and relevant links online.
  • Students will be able to obtain further help in their studies by approaching their lecturers, either after lectures or at other mutually convenient times (the Department has a policy of encouraging such enquires).
  • The information literacy session will introduce students to a variety of reference sources and how to use them effectively.
  • The practicals will consist of experimental projects, data analysis exercises, an enterprise seminar, feedback on data analysis and report writing, and one individual oral presentation.
  • These sessions will provide the means for students to acquire practical competence and accuracy in carrying out experimental procedures including measurement, use of apparatus and the recording of results.
  • During the sessions students will be able to obtain help and guidance from the laboratory scripts and through discussions with laboratory demonstrators.
  • Student performance in the laboratories will be summatively assessed through the assessment of laboratory notebooks and a written report.
  • The written reports will provide the means for students to demonstrate their achievement of the stated learning outcomes.
  • Work in the early stages of the experimental laboratories will be formatively assessed. This will enable students to gauge their progress and will inform their subsequent work. Work in the later stages will be summatively assessed.
  • Student performance in computing is summatively assessed through computing exercises.
  • An information session will outline the services offered by the University Library and will give practical advice on careers and employability.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 13 1 per week 1 hour 13
Practicals 17 1 per week 3 hours 51
Computing workshops 9 1 per week 1 hour 9
Other (Information Literacy Session) 1 1 in term 2 1 hour 1
Other (Library and Employability Session) 1 1 in term 1 1 hour 1
Preparation and Reading 125
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Written Report Component Weighting: 65%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Written report 100% Resubmitted written report
Component: Computing Exercises Component Weighting: 20%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Computing Exercises 100% Resubmitted computing exercises
Component: Laboratory Practice Component Weighting: 15%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Approach to record keeping 100% Desktop analysis of supplied data

Formative Assessment:

Formative assessment of the approach to laboratory notebook records; problem exercises; report-writing skills exercises; one written report; one oral presentation; one formative computing exercise.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University