Kelley Sullivan

Associate Professor, Physics and Astronomy


All students taking Advanced Lab (PHYS 360), Senior Projects (PHYS 495), and the Senior Thesis suite of courses (PHYS 398, 497, 498) are required to prepare their reports/theses using LaTeX.   Below is some general information about LaTeX, and descriptions and links to sites where you can download the software necessary to write and compile documents using LaTeX.  Additional instruction on using LaTeX will be provided in the courses listed above.  There are also descriptions and links to additional software downloads that are useful for creating equipment drawings, etc.  All software is freeware, unless specifically noted, and all is available on the computers in CNS 308 and the student room.

All of the recommended software have a strong following, and any question you may have has likely already been asked and answered online.  Before asking an instructor, try doing a Google search for your question first.  For Latex matters, two of my favorite references are the Latex Wikibook and the Tex Stackexchange.

General info on LaTeX:

LaTeX is a typesetting system for preparing professionally formatted scientific documents.  The format of a document (eg., margins, font, column spacing) is based on a style file.  All of our courses use the style file of the American Physical Society (REVTeX 4-1).  Typesetting elements (eg., italic text, greek symbols, equations) are based on packages, many of which come included with a LaTeX "installation", while more advanced formatting is produced by additional packages, which can be downloaded by a package manager, as needed.  Figures are embedded in the document, and must be in .eps or .pdf format.  There is a bit of a learning curve involved with LaTeX, of course, but most of our students fall in love with LaTeX in short order.  It's advantages over Word are numerous, including, automatic document formatting, beautifully formatted equations, automated numbering of figures, tables, equations, and references, automatic reference formatting, and many others.  

Perhaps the easiest way to learn LaTeX is to take an existing document and modify it.  To this end, you can find under the Documents link at left a .tex template, associated figure and .bib files, and the resulting .pdf, which includes the section headings and descriptions for Advanced Lab reports.  Below, I include instructions on configuring your software to compile this .tex file.  Additional options for compiling documents will be discussed in class.

LaTeX software:   

To produce files using LaTeX, you need to begin with a LaTeX installation, which includes the necessary packages for basic text/document formatting.  MikTeX provides a LaTeX installation and a package manager.    The package manager works with your editor in the background to provide information from installed packages, and to download and install additional packages, as necessary.  You will rarely open MikTeX itself.  

  • MikTeX  (LaTeX installation and package manager.)

When you first install MikTeX , you will be prompted to select the method by which MikTeX should download and install new packages.  In general, you should select "on the fly", which means MikTeX will automatically search online and download any new package you call in your preamble without any further action taken by you.  Additionally, after install, find MikTeX in your start menu, then choose "Maintenance" → "Settings" and set the default paper size to Letter.  Skipping this step will cause your margin sizes to be incorrect when you print your documents.

To create your documents, you will also need an editor.  Editors provide a graphical user interface you use to type and compile your "code" into a formatted document.  There are MANY freeware editors available.  My recommendation (from a student) is Texmaker.  

  • Texmaker*  (Recommended.  Cross-platform LaTeX editor with built-in .pdf previewer.)
  • WinEdt§  (My personal favorite editor.  Free, if you don't mind the annoying pop-up window, which shows up more often with continued use.  $30 to make the window disappear.)

* To compile documents in Texmaker, you first need to configure the Quick Build button.  From the "Options" menu, choose "configure Texmaker", then click on "Quick Build".  You will be presented with several options, choose:  LaTeX + dvips + ps2pdf + View Pdf, then click "OK".  Click on the arrow to the left of the words Quick Build in the top menu to compile the provided .tex file.

§To compile documents in WinEdt, look in the top menu for an icon that says "pdf T", with a lightning bolt.  From the drop-down menu, change this to "Texify".  Click this button to compile the provided .tex file.

Editors can be configured to work with .eps or .pdf files.  I strongly prefer the .eps file format, as it allows for lossless scaling of images.  To view and crop .eps files, you need Ghostscript and GSview.  Ghostscript works in the background, so you will never open it after install.  If you need to view and/or crop white space from an .eps file, you'll need to open the file in GSview.  To crop, choose "PS to EPS" from the File menu, then follow the prompt and click on the four sides of the image where you want the boundary to be, then save with a new name.

Additional software:

You will be required to draw all equipment diagrams, etc. on your own. (Photos or images from the internet are very rarely allowed.)  I DO NOT recommend Paint or any similar pre-installed Windows program.  The following programs are recommended instead.

  • Inkscape  (Drawing program for creating equipment diagrams, etc.)
  • EasyEDA  (To create circuit diagrams.  Not a download.  Diagrams are created on-site, then saved to the cloud. You can export to pdf, or click on svg source from the file menu and follow the instructions to create an svg file that can be edited in Inkscape and saved in a variety of formats!)