Advanced Undergraduate Laboratory

Department of Physics

University of Toronto

SPEC: Special Projects

Students who have already completed at least one semester in the Advanced Physics Lab (APL) have the option of choosing a special project for one or more of their experiments. Examples are given below, or you can propose your own idea. If your project improves an experiment for future students, you will receive credit in the experiment writeup.

All special projects must fit into the three experiment format of the lab, i.e. be assessed on the normal experiment due dates for the course. For example, if you work on a special project that is expected to take 6 weeks, you must still submit your notebook, be interviewed, and a mark assigned after the first 3 weeks; you will again submit your notebook and be interviewed and assessed at the end of the 6 weeks.

Extending an Experiment

Many Advanced Lab experiments can easily be extended. If the extension requires further measurements using the experimental apparatus, then you should just ask to do the experiment again. If, however, you have lots of data that you would like to understand better (either from a previous semester of this one), you may ask to do a special project to model it. Examples include:

You may have your own ideas, or just ask the Lab Coordinator about the many possibilities.

Redeveloping an Existing Experiment or Apparatus

Developing a new Experiment

Modelling Physical Systems

The essence of physics is creating mathematical models of a physical system, making experimental measurements on that system, comparing the measurements and the model, and then improving the model or experiments. There are many physical systems that are fun, and very educational, to investigate. In some cases the investigations might even contribute to publishable results. Here are a few possible examples.

Photo of ROMP magnetic pendulum toy

ROMP Magnetic Pendulum

Every physicist learns about simple pendulum, but what happens if we play with the potential?. The ROMP Magnetic Pendulum is a loosely-hung rigid plastic rod with a small magnet at the end. When just under the influence of gravity, the ROMP oscillates as a normal pendulum, but when small magnets are attached to the base the motion changes dramatically. This multimagnet arrangement is too complicated to start with, but it would be interesting to just see if we can quantitatively measure and model the ROMP with just a single magnet either increasing or decreasing the local potential. We want to go beyond simple qualitative modelling of the potential to quantitatively comparing the modelled motion with video data.

Photo of Atomix toy


Atomix was created by Canadian artist François Dallegret in 1966, reportedly as an educational physics toy. Atomix uses a layer of 6000 stainless steel balls to demonstrate two dimensional crystal formation with grain boundaries and defects, but what is more surprising is the "gas" of balls levitating above the "solid" crystal. Unlike the ROMP, where magnetic forces are intentional, the appearance of electrostatic forces in the Atomix is a bit of a surprise. Can we quantitatively measure and understand what is going on? How are the the charges generated and distributed on the balls and the interior surface of the plastic? Are other factors involved, e.g. static friction?

Last updated on 18 December 2020