Purpose of the Lab

The lab is designed to help you better understand the physical phenomena discussed in class and to develop the following competencies:

  • Data representation: scatter plots, histograms, curve fitting.
  • Data analysis: mean, stdev mean, p-values
  • Experimental design: creating a hypothesis that can be addressed in lab, designing a procedure, testing a procedure with preliminary experiments,
  • Understanding the difference between random, systematic, and instrumental errors
  • Learning to use instruments

Regular Lab

Every week you will perform an experiment and hand in a lab report at the end of the lab period. You are encouraged (Your grade depends on it!) to participate actively with your lab partners on these experiments, including the calculations and the error analysis.

Lab Reports

Each group will write a joint lab report (except for one lab during the semester where each student will hand in their own report on the Friday of that week) containing the following information: INTRODUCTION, PROCEDURE, RESULTS, and CONCLUSIONS. Your report should be written in very precise language with no ambiguities. These reports are to be typed using the spreadsheet EXCEL and/or the word processor WORD that are installed on the lab PCs. All of these must be presented in a neat and orderly fashion so that your lab instructor can easily understand what you have done. This includes the use of proper grammar.

The INTRODUCTION should contain the purpose of the laboratory, a few sentences describing the physics that is being studied in the lab, and what hypothesis you would like to test.

The PROCEDURE should describe how the experiment will be performed and the data analysis/representation that will verify your hypothesis. In most cases a diagram of the
experimental setup drawn in Paint will be helpful.

The RESULTS should include all the numbers you measured (in tabular form), any calculated values, means, statistical analysis, and graphs.

The CONCLUSIONS should summarize your interpretation of the Results. Did they validate your hypothesis? Were there sources of errors (random, systematic, instrumental) in your experimental design? In retrospect, what could you have done differently to minimize errors?

Special project

The last two weeks of lab will be devoted to a special lab project on a subject to be announced sometime during the semester. In the first week of this project, each group will discuss and decide how they will approach the problem. Each group will then discuss their approach with the instructor to determine its feasibility. If approved, the group will then carry out their experiment over the course of the week. During the last lab meeting, each group will demonstrate their project to the class. Each student will hand in their own lab report for this lab. The format will be the same as for other lab reports written this semester. This lab report is due at 5:00 pm on the last day of class before the start of final exams.

Lab Final

The laboratory final will take place immediately following the group presentations of the special projects. The final will consist of a written and an oral portion. The written part will include questions related to the competencies listed under Purpose of the Lab. The oral part is a lab practical component. Students will be given the task of being asked to measure the property of an object, or what affects a certain property of a material. The students will then say what needs to be measured, how they would measure it and then how they would analyze the data to answer the question.


The different parts of this laboratory will be weighted as follows:

60% Group lab reports
10% Special project
20% Lab final
10% Laboratory performance

The final 10% in the table above will be determined by your performance in the laboratory during the semester. These 12 points will be awarded as follows:

  • 8-10 points — student's performance generally exceeded our expectations.
  • 5-7 points — student's performance generally met our expectations.
  • 2-4 points — student's performance fell below our expectations
  • 0-2 points — student's performance often fell below our expectations

Your course letter grade will be assigned according to the total number of points that you have earned in the laboratory according to the following scale:

100-90 A
89-80 B
79-70 C
69-60 D
59-0 F