Syllabus for PHY252

Fall 2003



Laboratories will begin on August 25, 2003 and run through December 5, 2003. There will be 13 experiments. The purpose of this course is to teach you how to make measurements of physical parameters and how to analyze and interpret them. Working in groups of two, you will make measurements, tabulate and graph your data, evaluate uncertainties in your measurements, analyze the results of your experiments, and answer the questions for each experiment given in the laboratory manual.

You will find it very helpful to prepare well, i.e. read and study the materials for the laboratories before you come to class. Being prepared before you come to your lab session will enable you to finish on time, enjoy the lab more and help you get a higher grade. During the first 10 minutes of every lab period (except for the first lab of the semester) a closed book quiz may be given aimed at testing your readiness to perform that day's experiment and your understanding of the previous experiment. There will be more information about quizzes from your lab instructor during the first lab.  Please arrive on time or you will miss the quiz and the credit. All the materials to be graded (your lab report including data sheets, graphs, answers to questions, etc.) must be completed during your lab period and handed in to the instructor before you leave the lab.

The lab report consists of a cover sheet with your name, your student number and section number. This cover sheet should also contain a short description of the purpose of this experiment and a conclusion based upon your observations and measurements. Both of these parts should be in your own words, do not just copy the manual.

Laboratory reports will be graded by your instructor on a 10 point scale and will be handed back at the beginning of the next lab. The points will be distributed roughly as follows: purpose (1 pt), data (including accuracy), graphs and calculations (4 - 5  pts), answers to questions (2 - 3 pts), and conclusion (1 - 2  pts). Explain how you identified and tried to solve problems in the experiments, if there were any. If you see that your data was incorrect or your predictions of results were incorrect, explain as well as you can, what is wrong.  Please write clearly and neatly in full sentences.  Avoid wordiness and excessive detail.

Quizzes will generally have 4 questions and will be graded on a 4 point scale.

Your grade will be based on the total number of points for the labs and quizzes.  Since the instructors for the various sections do not necessarily grade identically, the scores for a given instructor's sections will be considered as a group for grading purposes.  Each of the groups will receive approximately the same average grade in the course, so that there is no advantage to having one instructor rather than another.  Within the group, the grades will be assigned strictly in order of points achieved.  The grade will be assigned by a curve, not a "straight scale" (for which there is no uniform definition in any case).  In the past, the average for the course was about 2.6. Please obtain from your instructor and save your graded lab reports and quizzes. You will need all of these if, at the end of the semester, you think your score wasn't correctly calculated.

Your lowest quiz score and lab report MAY be dropped.  (NOTE: May does NOT mean WILL.) If you have an unexcused absence from lab, the unexcused quiz/lab report will not be dropped.  Only excused absences or completed quiz/lab scores will be considered for a drop.  Do not assume ANY quiz/lab will be dropped.

Because personally participating in each laboratory is the essential part of this course, you must be present for each session. Should you find yourself in a position where you must miss a session, you should make every attempt to make-up labs missed for valid, documentable reasons. Make these arrangements with your instructor.  Please write an explanatory note with suitable documentation.  No make-ups are allowed without an explanatory note.  If you miss a lab without a valid reason, it will be counted as zero. Arrangements for a possible make-up should be initiated before the missed lab, if possible, but in any case no later than 24 hours after the missed lab.  Please make the arrangements for alternate attendance during the preceding week if the reason for absence is a pre-scheduled event, such as a field trips or religious holidays.  Make-ups will involve approved special attendance in a lab earlier or later in the week, if an open space is available.  However,  experience has shown that grades of students who miss EVEN ONE LAB are lower than those who attend and complete all labs. You can reach your instructor by e-mail or by office hour.

Your instructor is in charge of all aspects of laboratory procedures. Please confer with your instructor if you have a problem, since they can ordinarily solve most problems.

The laboratory coordinator for this course is Professor Harry Weerts. His office hours are Monday 2pm - 3pm in room 3247 BPS. If you cannot make this office hour and would like to make an appointment send an e-mail to Professor Weerts at Please include a phone number and a copy of your academic schedule so he can get back to you and set up a mutually convenient time.

Communications regarding the day-to-day operations of your section should be directed to your TA NOT the lab coordinator. (ie: a missed lab, attending another section, etc.)


Computers will be used in all the physics undergraduate labs and they are controlled by a central server. It is your responsibility to close all applications and log-out of your computer account when you leave the laboratory.

There are four software tools you will use in the physics labs:

I. Microsoft Excel
This is a spreadsheet program which you use to record/store your data. An empty spreadsheet is available at the start of each lab. The program allows you to do ALL calculations on your data. This tool removes all repetitive calculations from the lab, so you can concentrate on graphing and interpreting your data. However, the spreadsheet does not do ALL the calculations for you. In order to start the calculations you must perform at least one of them by hand. After you enter the correct formula into the spreadsheet for that particular quantity, the program will do all the other calculations for you.

II. Kaleidagraph
This tool is a general plotting program. It takes its input from columns of data and allows you to either plot a histogram of the contents of one column and/or graph any column versus any other column. Although some of these things are possible in Excel, Kaleidagraph has a very user friendly interface for adjusting axes/labels/text/bins etc. in any of the graphs. The input for the graphs is copied/pasted from the Excel spreadsheet. Once you are satisfied with your graph (binning is correct, labels are clear, axes are labeled and have units!!), you should save the graph to your user space on the server or on a floppy disk. It can then be printed separately or copied/pasted into your final lab report.

III. Microsoft Word
Word is used as the standard wordprocessor for the lab. In the beginning, it should be used for writing your introduction and conclusion. Toward the end of the semester it is expected that you submit your completed report in Word. This will allow you to include the relevant parts of your spreadsheets, graphs, introduction, and conclusion.

IV. Graphing Calculator
This is a tool very similar to a graphics calculator, but much more flexible. It allows you to graph functions in a very convenient way and even print them out.


  Save your files in assigned user space and do this regularly.

  Save your files using your last names and experiment number.

  If you want a copy of your work, bring in your own floppy disk and save your documents to the floppy. This may help you in the following weeks. If something happens to your work during the lab and it is destroyed, you will have to do the l0ab again. ....SAVE YOUR DATA OFTEN!!! There are no student data back-ups and all student data is deleted when the student account is closed.

  All the necessary computer software and spreadsheets will be on the computer when you start, so you should not have to search for items. You must purchase a new laboratory manual from any of the local bookstores. Do not use old versions of the laboratory manual as there have been significant changes to the material.

  No food or drinks of any kind are allowed in the laboratories....there are NO exceptions.

Last update: August 22, 2003