8.13-14 | Fall 2016 | Undergraduate

Experimental Physics I & II "Junior Lab"


Course Meeting Times

Labs: 2 sessions / week, 3 hours / session


Students enrolling in 8.13 Experimental Physics I are expected to have recently completed 8.04 Quantum Physics I.

Students enrolling in 8.14 Experimental Physics II are expected to have recently completed 8.05 Quantum Physics II and 8.13 Experimental Physics I so as to be prepared to immediately begin conducting investigations. 


Junior Lab consists of two undergraduate courses in experimental physics. The course sequence is usually taken by Juniors (hence the name). Officially, the courses are called Experimental Physics I and II and are numbered 8.13 for the first half, given in the fall semester, and 8.14 for the second half, given in the spring.

The purposes of Junior Lab are to give students hands-on experience with some of the experimental basis of modern physics and, in the process, to deepen their understanding of the relations between experiment and theory, mostly in atomic and nuclear physics. Each term, students choose several different experiments from a list of 21 total labs.


The purposes of Junior Lab are to give you hands-on experience with some of the experimental bases of modern physics, deepening your understanding of the relation between experiment and theory, and — in the process — to accelerate your professional development as a scientist in skills such as oral and written communication methods, the troubleshooting process, professional scientific attitude, data analysis, and reasoning about uncertainty.

You will do experiments on phenomena whose discoveries led to major advances in physics. The data you obtain will have inevitable systematic and random errors that obscure the relations between the macroscopic observables of our sensory experience and the physical laws that govern the submicroscopic world of atoms and nuclei. You will be challenged to learn how each of the experimental setups works, to master its manipulation so as to obtain the best possible data, and then to interpret the data in light of theory with a quantitative assessment of the uncertainties. We believe you will find satisfaction in observing, measuring, and understanding phenomena many of which would have won you the Nobel Prize if you had discovered them.

Section Organization

Students in the class are assigned to a section, with enrollment less than or equal to 16 students. Each section is run independently by one faculty member with the assistance of a graduate Teaching Assistant (TA). The sections are scheduled Monday through Thursday, and the lab is also open on Fridays from 10AM to 4PM for additional lab time outside of your regularly scheduled section.

You are expected to work in pairs, sharing as evenly as possible in the measurements, the analysis and the interpretation of the data. The best choice for a lab partner may be someone who lives nearby and has a schedule that matches yours so you can get together outside of class to analyze and interpret your results. Most students find they require at least 18 hours per week to do the work of the course.

Laboratory Access

Beyond your required assigned lab time, the laboratory will be open every class day from 9AM–5PM (except for Junior Lab staff meetings) and Friday from 10AM–4PM with staff help available to discuss physics and maintain equipment. At all other times the laboratories must be kept locked for safety and security, especially the security of radioactive sources. Junior Lab students may occasionally be permitted access to the lab outside of the normal hours, but only after consulting with their TA or section leader. It is each student’s responsibility to maintain security by making sure the doors are kept locked at all times outside of the regularly scheduled sessions. One should never work alone in a laboratory, especially if high voltages are involved. A partner or instructor must be within reach.

Ethics in Science and Education

Nature is the ultimate enforcer of truth in science. You will be tempted many times in Junior Lab to tamper with the integrity of your scientific results. Do not. This hurts yourself and others. You may also be tempted to plagiarize materials for your oral and written reports. Do not. All instances of academic misconduct in Junior Lab will be punished severely. Students are highly encouraged to review the materials on MIT’s Academic Integrity website.

Please consult Junior Lab’s more extensive Ethics in Science and Education section — which you are obligated to understand — for more specific discussion.

Safety in Junior Lab

Your safety in Junior Lab is the staff’s top priority. It should be your top priority, too. The most important safety rules, which the staff will enforce diligently, are as follows:

  1. Never work alone.
  2. No eating or drinking in the lab.
  3. Treat radioactive sources according to the ALARA principle, as per your training.
  4. Obey state regulations and Junior Lab practices on access and tracking of radioactive sources, as per your training.

On the first day of 8.13, Junior Lab students receive a general safety discussion, a lab tour, and a formal state-mandated training in the use of sealed sources of ionizing radiation from a member of MIT’s Radiation Protection Program. This training is required for work in both 8.13 and 8.14. Students who will be performing experiments using biological materials, Class 3b or Class 4 lasers, or requiring access to the MIT Nuclear Reactor facility will require further formal training from MIT’s Office of Environment, Health and Safety (EHS). The Junior Lab staff will provide information on the required training as needed.

In particular, the ‘Doppler-Free Saturated Absorption Spectroscopy’ experiment utilizes a Class 3b near-IR laser operating at 40 mW of output power; the ‘Raman Spectroscopy’ experiment utilizes a Class 4 532 nm 2 W laser. As such, all users of these experiments must undergo MIT Laser Safety Training (EHS Course 371C, about 1.5 hours in length, offered by EHS every few weeks) prior to performing the experiment. All students should download the MIT Laser Safety manual and read, at a minimum, Section Two.XVI.D dealing with Class 3b laser controls.

Please consult the more extensive Safety in Junior Lab section — which you are obligated to understand — for more specific discussion.

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2016
Learning Resource Types
Instructor Insights