UG Optical/IR Lab (AY 122) - Key topics & goals

Geoff Bower, Gaspard DuchĂȘne 8/20/2012

PURPOSE: use of astronomical observations to develop basic ideas and techniques of experimental astrophysics.

KEY SKILLS (see full list in the Appendix below):

1) Statistical description and manipulation of data

2) Developing communications skills

3) Computer skills

ORGANIZATION: Class meets Tuesday evening at 6PM until 9PM. Attendance is compulsory. Lab reports are due at 6PM on the day noted in the assignment sheet. No extensions!

CLASS FORMAT: Most of the time you spend in the Undergraduate Lab will be doing the experiments, analyzing your data, and writing reports.

NIGHT-TIME OBSERVING: Optical and infrared astronomy is a night-time activity, except for solar observations. Most of the labs will require night-time observations that may extend beyond the formal 9pm end of class. Furthermore, we may need to run some observations on other nights than Tuesdays. We will discuss specific scheduling constraints at the start of each new lab.

FIELD TRIPS: There will be two field trips in the semester. Attendance to both trips is required. In one of the trips (September 18), we will go to the Central Valley to gather data to measure the Earth's radius. In the other trip, we will visit Leuschner Observatory (probably October 16), located a few miles East of Berkeley, where the telescope we will use in the last two labs is located.

GRADING: Grading is based on your lab reports and participation during class.

HANDOUTS: Brief written descriptions will be handed out to guide you.

LECTURE: There will be brief formal instruction sessions to explain the more subtle points of the experiment we are trying to communicate. If you don't understand something, that's because we have not explained it carefully enough. Always ask questions. Plenty of times you will ask questions that we don't know the answer to immediately. Together we can find the answer.

SHOW & TELL: While we are doing an experiment we will start class with show and tell so that everyone knows the status. This is your opportunity to solve your problems and see how others are approaching the task in hand. Come to class prepared to describe what you have done in the previous week. Ask questions and interrogate the instructors and your fellow students. The focus of show and tell should be to present preliminary results, work in progress and, most importantly, problems that you are struggling with (most likely someone else in the class has run into it and maybe found a solution...).

COLLABORATION: It is crucial that you learn how to work in a team. There are too many things to do for you to be able to accomplish lab assignments single handedly. Each member of your team should take primary responsibility for one aspect of the experiment: writing an IDL program designed for a specific calculation; acquiring some data; working out a piece of math, etc. This does not mean that you can ignore that aspect of the Lab. It is your responsibility to understand and execute your task and to understand what your partners are doing. You must establish mutual trust by explaining to your partners what you are doing and having them explain to you what they are doing. If you don't understand what the rest of your group is up to you can't tell if they are screwing up! If you don't know what your lab partners are doing you will not be able to write your lab report. Your measurements and analysis will be a team effort, but your final Written report must yours alone.

REPORT WRITING: The primary way that we evaluate you (and you will continue to be evaluated during your professional career) is by what you write. The first trick to successful written communication is to READ what you have put on paper! This means that you eliminate spelling errors (use the spell checker), use carefully constructed grammar, and pay strict attention to the logical construction of sentences and paragraphs. Clarity leads to effective communication of understanding, so clarity, not style, is of greatest importance in the physical sciences. You must strive for lucidity in your lab reports.

Draw up an OUTLINE before you start a report. This will save you lots of effort and give you a clear road map. If you don't have an outline you have no idea where you are headed. When you have read over your report, give it to one of your peers and ask for comments. Only your best friend will tell you exactly how bad your prose is. The best way to learn to write is to practice. This means that writing your first few lab reports will be painful---and listening to our criticism will be painful too.

In return we expect that you will criticize our handouts. Please point out parts that could be improved for clarity.

TEXTS: Strongly recommended: "An Introduction to Error Analysis", Second Edition, John R. Taylor

You will also find "Handbook of CCD Astronomy" by Steve B. Howell very useful for the imaging labs. Several copies can be found in the Undergraduate Lab.

ACCESS TO THE UNDERGRADUATE LAB: All enrolled students must have their CalCard activated to enter in Hearst Field Annex Building D (the Undergraduate Lab is room D23) and obtain the doorcode to the Lab itself. If you have not done so, please contact Rayna Helgens ASAP (at the Front Desk of the Astronomy Department, in Building B). Access to the Undergraduate Lab is a privilege-don't pass on the combination or lend your key to anyone not enrolled in the class. We trust you to act responsibly; don't do anything that might prevent us from being able to offer this freedom to subsequent classes. The primary purpose of the Lab is for study, but you should also consider it a place you can hang out. Please avoid doing anything that compromises this purpose - this includes smoking and the use of drugs or alcohol.

NIGHT SAFETY: If you are alone in the Underagraduate Lab at night you might want to keep the door closed. If you walk home late at night please call the escort service 642-WALK (9255).

LAB GROUPS: For some labs, you will be asked to form up lab teams to gather data (3-4 students per group)

COMPUTER ACCOUNTS: Fill out a ugastro unix account form and get it signed by a professor.


Geoff Bower - Professor
Gaspard Duchene

Zaki Ali - GSI  [OH: Wed 11-12, Thu 1-2]
Pauline Arriaga - UGSI

Attila Kabai - Lab Engineer
(510) 642 3163

Leuschner Obs: (925) 284 9403

Appendix --- Skills

1. Description of Data
Experiments and statistics---samples and populations
Mean and variance
Probability distribution functions
Specific distributions
Binomial distribution
Poisson distribution, e.g., photon statistics
Gaussian distribution
Moments of probability distribution functions
Mean and variance
Precision vs. accuracy
Propagation of errors
Standard deviation of the mean
Statistical errors vs. systematic errors
Maximum likelihood methods for estimating parameters
Chi2 test and least squares fitting
Fitting a straight line to data
Time and spectral domain
Fourier transform
The convolution theorem
2. Communication skills
Presentation and analysis of quantitative data
Scatter plots
Error bars
Report writing
Making an outline
Importance of clear use of language
LaTeX and HTML
Oral presentations
Working in a team
Teaching and learning
Understanding goals
Budgeting your time
Sharing tasks
3. Computer skills
Critical thinking---tools for evaluation of information
Interacting with a computer
Using Unix