Experimental Physics Classes
Written by Don Smith, 19 December 2007
(Updated by Don Smith, 23 January 2017) (After a document by Rexford Adelberger, 2002)
When you wish to do an experiment at the physics facility at Guilford College, you first must write a proposal to do this research. The proposal is patterned after proposals for funding that are submitted to the National Science Foundation, one of the principal governmental agencies that fund physics research in the USA.
The proposal should be written by the experimental group and submitted by the Principle Investigator to the GCPD electronically (by uploading the file to Moodle). The proposal should be a PDF file created with LaTeX. A template file will be provided.
Each proposal should contain the following sections:
A concisely written paragraph that outlines the project; its goals, means, and plans to achieve these goals. Basically an abstract.
Shows where to find the various parts of the proposal. (LaTeX will create this automatically.)
A detailed explanation of what you want to do. It should contain a background section that tells about previous work done on this topic. You should carefully explain how you intend to do the experiment. You also should discuss how you will know when you are done with the experiment. Diagrams of experimental set-up are useful in describing what you are planning to do. You should tell the expected outcomes of the project.
This is where you make your case. Everything you say should support your implicit claim that your project is worth funding, that you have the necessary skills and expertise to successfully complete it, and that you have designed the best possible way to execute the project. Make sure you address those issues in your project description. If you are bringing someone on board to help you in some aspect of the project, clarify that here and explain what skills that person will bring to the project. Finally, you should have a paragraph that addresses the "broader impact" of your work. How will society be affected by knowing the constant that you are proposing to measure? (For this class, all you have to do is figure out how knowing the constant has affected society and write that in the future tense.) NSF currently requires all proposals to address the broader impact of their work, so I am including this part here as part of our "game" of modelling the actual process of doing science.
Successful proposals in the real world usually follow the following steps: 1. Problem X is interesting and important, but... 2. Issue Y remains poorly studied. 3. A better understanding of Y would be useful because..., so 4. Here is how I plan to address it, and 5. here is why I will be successful. See also this description of how to write a successful proposal.
You should start a BibTeX database. We will go over how to do this in class. If you do it correctly, LaTeX will take care of all the references for you. Remember that you have to run LaTeX twice, then BibTeX twice, then LaTeX twice again to make sure everything is up to date. (Overleaf does this repetition automatically.)
You should develop a time line for when you will set up, do, analyze, and publish the experiment. You should make clear the responsibilities of the other members of the experimental group. Include the due dates for the class assignments, but break down exactly what you will be doing on your experiment into major tasks, like "purchase all equipment", "carry out initial tests", "complete data-taking phase", or "complete statistical anaylsis". That sort of thing.
This important section lists any special facilities, equipment and other stuff that you will need to complete the proposed project. If we need to purchase equipment or have other real costs, you need to document them.