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The projects in this class are suitable for any of the BSc and MSci compulsory laboratory components. In addition these topics, suitably extended, may form the basis of the longer M-level project taken by MSci students. MSci Students should consult likely supervisors for these M-level projects to discuss how this may be done.

The projects are designed to give you high-level experience in observational, experimental and computational astrophysics, and to develop your skills in teamwork and problem-solving. Most of the course time will be spent during the day (Tuesdays, semester 2, 1130--1700) at the Observatory, but some observational work may need to be done at night or at other times, depending on the projects you choose. You can work at the Observatory at other times by arrangement.

Be clear that these honours labs represent a step-change in your experience of practical astronomy work. They are closer to real research projects than were the A1/A2 labs, and are therefore less prescriptive -- by design you will \emph{not} be given a step-by-step instruction sheet, although demonstrators will always be at hand to discuss you project with you. As a result you will probably experience both the highs and lows of any research scientist feeling their way through a new topic.

With this extra responsibility comes more freedom: you have the full resources of the Observatory to carry out your project, and you should not be afraid to ask for more equipment or change the direction of the project if you uncover an interesting phenomenon. The Observatory Technician, Mr Colin Hunter, will offer advice and assistance in developing any apparatus necessary for the completion of the project. Feel free to approach Colin to discuss your ideas. You should however also discuss any significant changes you intend to make with a demonstrator.

You may be surprised by the sense of excitement that will probably emerge during the development of the project. A strong feeling of achievement rightly comes from taking live data, seeing a new result or pushing equipment to new levels of sensitivity not achieved by previous students. Occasionally projects have resulted in research papers being published with undergraduate authorship -- a definite entry for a CV!

Computational Honours Projects

Observational & Practical Honours Projects

See also these rules.

Intended learning outcomes

As part of a small group, the student should be able to:
  • Identify, with the assistance of the laboratory head, a (set of) clear scientific question(s) to be answered by a combination of experiment and/or observation and/or computational work, depending on the type of project;
  • Discuss, analyse and plan a path of investigation, and make an appropriate timetable for completion of all individual and group tasks, including final reports;
  • Contribute to the management of the group (including division of tasks) for efficient and amicable working;
  • Implement a strategy for reviewing and updating the goals and direction of the research in accordance with progress and problems;
  • Evaluate the achievements of the work against the goals set at the beginning of the project and revised during its progress.

As an individual the student should be able to:
  • (Computational projects) Demonstrate proficiency in programming in a high level computer language or astronomical software package, and apply this to the solution of a theoretical or data-analysis problem;
  • (Practical projects) Use professional-level laboratory bench equipment, and construct small devices where necessary, to investigate physical phenomena or use sophisticated astronomical observing equipment and acquire data from an astronomical source;
  • Analyse and critically interpret experimental or computational results, including their uncertainties;
  • Keep a running log of individual work and team progress, and produce a succinct and meaningful interim report where required;
  • Critically review and evaluate individual achievements against the overall project goals and if necessary negotiate adjustments to goals or working patterns to allow completion of group and individual tasks, including the final report;
  • Write a detailed individual technical report on work undertaken, synthesising the results of all group members, and including background information and theory, a description of equipment and procedures, data and data analysis, and results/conclusions.

Additionally, for MSci Combined Honours in Year 4, students should be able to:
  • In their report, set their project work in the context of existing knowledge of the topic, including from the scientific literature;
  • Prepare and give a scientific presentation on their project work, and its wider context, to an audience of staff and peers, using appropriate audio-visual aids.

Structure of the laboratory

There are different requirements depending on your chosen degree path. These are detailed in the A345 course guide but are briefly described below:

BSc combined designated

  • Year 3: AstroSkills 1 (10 credit honours astronomy laboratory project and 5 credit oral seminar)

BSc combined honours

  • Year 3: AstroSkills 1 (10 credit honours astronomy laboratory project and 5 credit oral seminar project)
  • Year 4: AstroSkills 2 (10 credit honours astronomy laboratory project and 5 credit written seminar project)

BSc Single Honours Physics with Astrophysics

  • Year 3: AstroLab 1 (10 credit honours astronomy laboratory project)
  • Year 4: AstroLab 2 (10 credit honours astronomy laboratory project)

MSci Combined Honours

  • Year 3: AstroSkills 1 (10 credit honours astronomy laboratory project and 5 credit oral seminar project)
  • Year 4: AstroSkills 3 (20 credit module comprising one 15 credit astronomy Honours project and a 5 credit project viva. The project will feature an extended report)
  • Year 5: 40 credit M-project

MSci Single Physics with Astrophysics

  • Year 3: AstroLab 1 (10 credit honours astronomy laboratory project)
  • Year 4: no honours astronomy laboratory project
  • Year 5: 40 credit M-project


You will carry out the work at the Observatory on Tuesdays 1130--1700 in semester 2. Depending on the kind of project you undertake you may need to make observations at night at a telescope, and the time this takes is included in the schedule for the project.

You will get support and advice from staff, technicians and demonstrators during your laboratory sessions. As your project proceeds, there will be a more formal assessments of progress.

*Half way through the project we require you to produce a short interim report (&lt page) through Moodle, describing the goals of the project, your progress so far and the work to be done. The Lab Head will discuss the report with you. It will not form part of the project assessment, but is mandatory to check progress.*

Very important: As a matter of good working practice, and to help with the assessment of your progress, _it is very important that you keep a weekly log of what you achieve in a PERSONAL laboratory notebook_. Also make sure that you have a copy of all the data that your team gathers. It is your responsibility to submit an individually written report on the project. Do not share text or diagrams without explicit reference to the original author (see plagiarism below).

Laboratory key dates

Some of the important dates to keep in mind for this year.
  • Lab 0: Tuesday 9th January 2018: Introductory session and project sign up
  • Lab 1: Tuesday 16th January 2018: Start of project work
  • Lab 5: Tuesday 13th February 2018: Interim report to be submitted by 5pm
  • Lab 9: Tuesday 13th March 2018: End of project work
  • Report: Monday 9th April (to be confirmed): Submission of laboratory report
  • Viva: week 16th-20th April (to be confirmed): viva for Year 4 MSci combined honours (AstroSkills3)

Project choice

A relatively wide choice of projects is available (see above) but topics can also be suggested by students themselves and, subject to approval and resource availability, these are very welcome. Remember that most of the projects have an element of research and will require initiative for you to make progress. If you have particular skills in some aspect of electronics, computing or observational astronomy then this is an opportunity to exploit them with an imaginative project idea.

The projects roughly fall into two types:
  • Practical These projects will require you to
analyse data collected by your group on a local telescope or with laboratory equipment. The act of data collection is a significant proportion of these projects, but the analysis of the data is still a very important part.
  • Computational These projects do not use experimental
equipment, and are restricted to numerical modelling or the analysis of real data collected by other astronomers. Although the data that you analyse may not be your own, there is still a wide scope for experimental technique as you understand the noise and/or artefacts that are inevitably present in any real data.

Both types of project will probably involve some computer use, either for data acquisition or analysis. A networked computer cluster (`Apollo') is available at the Observatory, and there are several laptops that are suitable for stand-alone observational work.


All projects are open to all students. Projects should involves 45 hours work per year (9 lab sessions) in semester 2. Those students who take two astronomy honours laboratories (see above for details) should normally take one computational and one practical project.

The M-level project will be handled separately, but can be based around one of the topics listed below, or another topic entirely. It must also include a literature survey (or technical essay) and high quality project report and presentation, and of course we would expect you to develop the project to a greater level of completeness and sophistication than if it were a `short' project.

Carrying out the project

An important component of the laboratory work is the development of team-working ability, and students will normally be expected to work in groups of either two or three. _Do not hesitate to draw the Lab Head's attention to any difficulties between members of the group. Such problems are not new and can usually be resolved quite amicably_.

In some projects it is possible to divide the work so that different parts of the project can be worked on by different group members. For example, one person might look after the assembly of the equipment and the acquisition of data, while another might be preparing a computer program to analyse the data. It is valuable experience to make sure these various pieces of work come together.

Although each team member will naturally play to their own skills, try to avoid the situation in which a computer whiz-kid hogs a machine while their keyboard-shy colleagues stand by, looking a bit lost and feeling inadequate about their contributions (see the discussion on Statement of Work below to identify which student has performed which tasks).

Project sheets and web pages

For most of the projects listed below there is a short web page describing the objectives of the project and technical information related to any equipment. This information can be found at the links above. These pages can be fairly detailed in setting the scene and describing how the apparatus operates, but may simply give guidelines for how to proceed. At honours level the amount of instruction is just designed to get you started and reflect situations you may encounter in a future scientific career. If any project seems to be lacking definition then please ask a demonstrator who will be happy to fill in more of the details. Please note that projects do evolve so some of this information may be out of date. If in doubt do ask either Prof. Hammond or your assigned demonstrator.

Written reports

During the project you must make copious notes on the key features of the experiment and of the equipment in a {\bf personal laboratory notebook} (for example, record of the size of the telescope you have used and its configuration). Do not wait until the write-up time to find out details. Use your notebook as a diary, and record the date and time of events -- you won't ever regret writing something down. Make notes on what you have achieved in each session. Make notes of references that are relevant or that have been useful during the experiment; again you should not have to find out these details when you are writing the report. We may periodically check your notebook for its existence and its contents over the project period, and this can be used as a guide to your contribution during the project.

It takes about 9 weeks to complete each project (working 5 hours a week), and at the end you must hand in a report. You are strongly encouraged to work closely as a team during this time, but in the end a separate report must be written by each student and the usual GU rules on plagiarism apply (see http://www.gla.ac.uk/services/plagiarism/). Use your common sense on this -- share information and numerical results but don't copy someone else's interpretation, words or diagrams. All students must hand in their reports immediately after the Spring vacation (you will be told a specific date well in advance) and an electronic copy should be lodged in Moodle.

Penalty for late submission

To quote from the University Calendar: Sub-components of coursework are subject to penalties for late submission in the same manner as full coursework components; essentially a two secondary band deduction per day with a cut - off at five days after which the submission will receive a grade H. In cases where sub - components are marked in percentages, an equivalent reduction of 10% per day should be applied, with a cut-off at five days following which the grade awarded will be zero.

In the context of the current lab, this means that for each working day after the deadline for the submission of the work for assessment (e.g. the date on Moodle for the upload), you will receive a deduction of 2 grade points on the 22 point scale from your assessed mark. After 5 days, you will receive no marks.

In general it is bad practice to delay report-writing. First, it is always harder to collect material together when it has gone cold and it develops pressures at times when you would rather be concentrating on other things. Second, you miss the feedback from your assessor, and there is less chance of developing and improving your writing and presentation skills. _It is an important part of the learning process to receive constructive criticism from your (particularly first) report_. This can be done by presenting it to the Lab Head in draft form and discussing the style and content prior to its final submission (see below under Assessment).

Deadlines can of course be extended for students with good cause. The length of the extension is at the discretion of the labhead. It should be reasonable, commensurate with the reasons for good cause supplied and determinate in length. However extensions will be constrained by when feedback is provided to the class. If in any doubt contact the lab head.

Report style

Your report is a serious document, intended to convey information as clearly as possible. Keep this in mind when you are producing graphs and describing your technique and results. Avoid jargon but use the appropriate vocabulary for the topic. Your report should
  • describe the reasoning behind the experiment and place it in a theoretical context,
  • include descriptions of the equipment and procedures at a level suitable for an informed reader,
  • describe the data and how the data reduction was performed (or the numerical results from any computations),
  • present your conclusions from the experiment.

The report must be typed, but you are free to use any package in its production. You should already be familiar with Microsoft Word, however another package, called\LaTeX, is much more common in the physics/maths/astronomy communities as it is particularly suited to typesetting equations and tables. If you are interested in trying LaTeX, ask a demonstrator or the Lab Head for further instruction. LaTeX \is free, works on practically any computer, and those who use it for scientific reports rarely go back -- even this document was produced with it.

The report should be similar to a research paper, with an abstract and cited references. It is a useful maxim to remember for any presentation to "Tell them what you are going to say -- say it -- tell them what you have said!" Good English, with correct spelling and grammar, is an important component of your report and will count towards the assessment.

Useful web sites

For all your astronomy project work, several web sites stand out as particularly useful. Obviously, Google will get you information on most topics, including instrumentation such as CCDs and telescopes. This is a perfectly legitimate place to start, and critically assessing the usefulness of search engine results is an increasingly important scientific skill. In addition, the NASA Astrophysical Data System is a repository of both scientific papers and links to data sites. Google Scholar (http://scholar.google.co.uk/) will also help to to find scientific papers written on your topic. Wikipedia is (of course) another invaluable starting-off point for any investigation, but recognise that, by design, Wikipedia is not itself a primary reference. It is a source of references.

A note on plagiarism

Please read the University's plagiarism statement. It's more common for people to get in trouble over plagiarism through ignorance of the regulations than through any intention to cheat, so make sure you know where you stand. Reports are passed through plagiarism software to check for any similarities with previous work.

As already stated, the practical work undertaken as part of the A3/A4 Course is normally conducted in small teams (2 or 3 students each). The plagiarism statement is not intended to inhibit discussion within the project team or with others within the class on the organisation of equipment, on the interpretation of data or on the development of computer programmes etc., -- in fact this is encouraged.

When you use someone else's laboratory measurement acknowledge them clearly in your written report, following the guideline on how to do this set down by the University. The development of computer programs is often a team effort. If this is the case, the division of work should be described carefully in the report.


A normal project (AstroSkills 1/2, AstroLab 1/2) contributes 10 credits to your final result. A project under AstroSkills 3 contributes 15 credits to your final result.

Each project is assessed on the University's 22 point scale (see the final page of this handbook for a descriptor). Approximately 1/3 of the marks are based on your performance during the lab sessions (including your note-taking), 1/3 on the report presentation and 1/3 on scientific content of the report. Bonus adjustments will be made to the assessment to reflect any special initiatives and innovations that you have introduced. The individual contributions of each student will be noted and assessed separately. Your reports are made available to the External Examiner, and the marks will contribute to your overall assessment both in 3H/3M and 4H/4M (see the current A345 Student Handbook).

As in physics labs, the assessment will consider the following:
  • Record keeping Has the student kept a proper record of the practical work? Is it clear what measurements were taken? Is it clear how the measurements were taken? Are the actual readings written down directly into the notebook? Are there suitable headings and units? Is there suitable cross-referencing and annotation?
  • Analysis Have the measurements been fully and properly analysed? Is it clear how the calculations were performed and were the data used came from? Are the graphs and tables produced suitably labelled? Is there an appropriate error calculation and was it carried out sensibly?
  • Understanding Does the student understand the principles of the project and the use of the apparatus at the level required in the experiment?
  • Standard Was the work involved in the experiment carried out to the appropriate standard taking into account any equipment malfunctions experienced? Were the results sensible?
  • Conclusion Is there a formal conclusions section written in good prose? Are the conclusions drawn supported by the results? Is a comparison with suitable accepted values made? Is there a sensible discussion of sources systematic error and their possible effect on the result?

Statement of work

In order to help assess your lab performance (2/3 marks are on the report and 1/3 are on your lab performance) we ask for a Statement of Work. This should be no more than 1 page of A4 which states the contribution that you made to the project. This could indicate work done writing computer code, novel ideas, your role in analysing data, or additional time spent at the telescope. This statement of work will be used, together with the feedback from the project demonstrator, to decide on the mark for the lab performance. You should include the statement of work at the end of your report, after the reference section.

The following highlights the assessment structure:
  • Reports received
  • Double marked (2/3 marks)
  • Statement of work read and discussed with demonstrator (1/3 marks)
  • Combined (2/3+1/3) final mark on 22 point scale

Incomplete assessment

Students who fail to attend regularly or who fail to carry out the required lab work will be deemed not to have completed the course. In the absence of exceptional extenuating circumstances, the minimum requirement is that students must have attended for the full lab hours on at least half of the lab days appropriate to their lab section. They must also have submitted appropriate certificates to cover all of their absences from the laboratory. The minimum work requirement will normally be the completion of at least half of the work set out for the appropriate section of the class. If a penalty for late submission has been applied, this penalty will be taken into account before assessing whether the minimum work requirements have been met.


You will receive formal feedback from each submitted report, and further informal feedback will be supplied by the lab head on request. All reports that contribute to your degree classification are retained for inspection by the examining committee, but they can be collected from the lab head on request once you graduate. Remember also that during the lab you will continually receive feedback from the project demonstrators.

Viruses, Trojans, Worms and lunch

Please take care when using external media such as memory sticks and when installing software. In general, you are free to transfer astronomical data files, but don't transfer downloaded executable code without permission. All the main machines at the Observatory are fully networked but do not run the University desktop software, so it is probably easier to use a personal memory stick (`pen drive') to hold and transfer your own data. Be sure to backup your memory stick, as they have a tendency to die if used a lot. If in doubt, ask the Lab Head or a demonstrator. If a particular piece of standard (`free') software, such as a web browser or file viewer, is not available on an Observatory PC and can be downloaded from a reputable site then you can install it yourself. If in doubt, ask.

You are welcome to bring your own laptop to the Observatory if you have one, but use eduroam and do not connect it to the wired network. The machines at the Observatory are protected by a firewall, and you could endanger them all by introducing a new machine on the wrong side of it.

Please do not consume food or drink when working on computers or on other pieces of laboratory equipment, partially because spills could damage equipment or even result in electrocution, but mostly because finding the remains of someone's lunch in the cracks between the keys is very unappealing. Eating is done in the entrance lobby.


The Observatory has an excellent record for safety and we would like to keep it that way. There are a number of key points to note:

  • Ask the Lab Head or a demonstrator to familiarise you with any electronics if you are unsure. Always be careful of mains electricity, particularly if working outdoors, and never work directly on mains wiring. Check there is an earth-leakage circuit breaker on any trailing mains cables.
  • Acre Road main telescope dome: A telescope dome is a heavy piece of kit, and is potentially hazardous, particularly in the dark. If your project involves the use of an optical telescope, the Lab Head will arrange for supervision and training on its first use. If you are then given unlimited access to the telescope for your project work, at least two trained people must be present at all times. There are no exceptionsto this rule. A separate set of instructions, and training, will be provided on how to use the main telescope, however three points must be emphasized:
    • When working on the observing floor, make sure that the hatches are down or the top gate closed to stop people falling down the stairwell. Please take care while using the stair access between the ground and observing floors.
    • Stand well clear of the inside of the dome when it is in motion and keep away from the rails.
    • For your own security at night, always bolt the ground floor door when you are operating the telescope.
  • Acre Road solar telescope dome: A separate set of instructions will be provided on how to use this telescope. Again take care with ladders and stairs on your way up to the dome. Hard hats (provided) should be worn as the room leading to the observing
floor has a low ceiling with exposed metal beams.
  • The Small Radio Telescope: This is situated on the roof of the building, with ladder access as for the solar dome. This telescope is remotely controlled, so access is not necessary, but hard hats are necessary if you need to go up there.
  • Some of the equipment is expensive, delicate and needs to be handled in dark conditions when hands can be cold. Accidents do happen, but please do take great care with the equipment you borrow, and that your colleagues may need to finish their work. If in doubt of how to use something, do ask a demonstrator.
  • Telephone Numbers:
    • Acre Road Observatory: 0141 330 8555 (i.e., internal 8555)
    • Maryhill Police: 532 3700
Topic revision: r8 - 08 Feb 2018, GrahamWoan
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