In my last post I mentioned that I was doing a lab report but I realised that you guys probably don’t know what that, or labs in general, really involve. So here goes…
Before I came to uni I had an idea in my head what labs would be like. Most of these involved me wearing some kind of white lab coat and goggles, holding a clipboard, and playing with large vats of liquid nitrogen. I’m sorry if I kill your buzz but we don’t wear lab coats and generally don’t wear goggles either. However, we do get to use liquid nitrogen and big lasers, high energy x-ray generators and lots of other complicated and exciting stuff! 😀
Labs are a bit different each year and depend on which course you are on. If you’re taking the standard physics course you’re like me! I’ll tell you a little bit more about that as it’s my area of expertise. Astro-physicists you’ll do some observing and theoretical you’ll do more computer labs.
In first year you’ll have half a day a week of labs (for me it was Monday afternoons) and in second you have a whole day! They work fairly similarly both years. You’ll have a lab partner that you work with – most people end up good mates with theirs. Each lab you do lasts two weeks – in those two afternoons/days you are expected to complete the experiments and write up your results in you lab book. All the experiments are related to courses you are studying from electromagnetism to solid state physics.
An example of a lab I’ve really enjoyed this year is one that looked at the behaviour of electrical conductors, semi-conductors and superconductors. It involved cooling various materials using liquid nitrogen, putting currents through them and studying their properties. We also got to have a go at cooling superconductors and using them to levitate magnets which was pretty cool!
I love labs – I really enjoy using all the equipment, having a go at applying the stuff we’ve been learning, doing something hands on (and playing with liquid nitrogen ;)) ! But I’d be lying if I said it was easy and that my lab partner and I didn’t end up tearing our hair out on regular occasions. Thankfully there’s lots of people around including lab demonstrators and technicians who can help. Lab demonstrators, generally phd students, have done all the experiments already. They mark your lab books at the end of each lab but they’re also there to help you out with anything that goes wrong. As are the fabulous lab technicians who put in heaps of work setting everything up and seem to be able to coax any misbehaving piece of equipment into doing as it’s told!
Each experiment has to be written up in your lab book as you go along. Your lab book gets marked for each experiment you do which in turn contributes to your overall score in the lab module. You also have to do formal lab reports which are longer, more extensive write ups of one of the experiments you have performed. In second year you do two formal lab reports.
Luckily for you all of this will get explained properly when you start out including all the details about how to properly keep a lab book etc. I just wanted to give you flavour of what it’s like – for me a far cry from anything I did at school or college! It’s one of my favourite parts of the course, hopefully it will be for you too! 🙂