Syllabus - Physics 191
Fall Semester 2006

updated Sept 1, 2006 pm

Lead Instructor:

Professor James Linnemann
Room 3245 BMPS Building
        355-9200 extension 2125
Print this syllabus, which also contains the schedule for your course. The write-ups for the experiments are linked to the schedule at the end of this syllabus. Click here to find the instructor for your section.

Course Objectives and Description

In this course we will perform a series of experiments illustrating several principles of classical mechanics covered in the lecture courses. The analysis of these experiments is designed to give practial experience in quantitative measurement, organization and critical interpretation of results, and the evaluation of uncertainties necessary to scientific measurement. The course is definitely not "cookbook" style: every detail of procedure isn't spelled out. It is significantly more demanding than the 251 laboratory, and meets the level required of physics and astrophysics majors. The official course description is here.


During this course, we expect you to:
* become familiar with some particular laboratory equipment and procedures.
* use reference materials to decide how best to carry out analyses measurements within the available time
* make careful and critical measurements.
* record and organize your observations.
* estimate uncertainties in your measurements
* judge whether your measurements are consistent with previous measurements.

The laboratory exercises are meant to prepare you to preform and analyze your own scientific measurements, but will require you to think through how best to perform the measurements, analyze, and interpret the results.

Class Schedule

The first laboratory session takes place during the first week of classes. The first lab, during the week of August 28, will consist of 3 hours of analysis of existing data using Excel and Kaleidagraph. If for any reason you miss your first lab session, you should contact your instructor or Professor Linnemann immediately. The detailed schedule is given at the end of this syllabus.


1. You will need to print out this syllabus and bring it to class.

2. The textbook for this course is "An Introduction to Error Analysis" (2nd edition) by John R. Taylor, published by University Science Books.

3. The experiments are described on the PHY191 web pages linked to the schedule at the end of this syllabus. You should print out the lab write-up (you'll need Adobe PDF Reader) for the experiment you will be performing and bring it to the lab. The first lab write-up, Experiment 1, also contains the Reference Guide for the class, so bring the Experiment 1 writeup to every lab. The alternative to printing the lab write-ups is to purchase a course pack from the Student Bookstore (on Grand River), which will contain all the printed materials except this syllabus.

4. You must also purchase a bound lab book (NOT a looseleaf notebook). You can either choose one which has "no carbon required" duplicate sheets in it, or a normal lab book (but then you will have to photocopy the relevant sheets to turn in with your lab report). The critical thing is pre-printed numbers on each page.

5. You will need to bring to lab each week a scientific calculator.

6. To back up data for experiments spanning 2 weeks, it is advised (but not required) that you bring a USB Flash Disk (sometimes also called a "thumb drive", "jump drive", "key disk", etc.).

7.Finally, because this is a physics lab, you will need access to a calculus-level physics text such as Fundamentals of Physics (Halliday et. al.) or Physics for Scientists and Engineers (Bauer et. al.).

Excel and Kaleidagraph will be used for data analysis in the lab sessions. Kaleidagraph is also available in the physics help room and can be downloaded temporarily, or purchased, at the Kaleidagraph web site. However, most students should not need to use Kaleidagraph outside the laboratory period.

Laboratory Procedures and Grading

You will do the experiments in groups of two (with a different partner for most experiments).   You will collaborate with your partner in data taking, but you are expected to do independent calculations and write independent reports. Most labs will consist of two 3 hour sessions. Your instructor will initial your data before you leave the lab. Each report will be handed in the next week after the in-class portion of the lab is completed. Late reports will not be accepted. 

Attendance is mandatory.  If you have an excused medical absence, your instructor will determine whether you will be permitted to do a makeup or whether you will be graded on  the remaining reports.

Before each class, you will be expected to print and read the description of the experiment, and read sections of the book by Taylor to clarify how to perform the necessary error estimations.  This advance preparation is essential if you wish to successfully finish the lab.  Write your responses to “Questions for Discussion” in lab book before the experiment. You may discuss them with your lab partner beforehand. Based on the lab write-up, it is suggested that you make yourself a checklist of the measurements and analysis plots you will need to make during the lab period. In later labs, you will need to plan what tables you need to organize your data and results.

Your laboratory measurements will be performed during class, but you should also make graphs and perform calculations during class to determine whether your measurements are valid.  If you blindly take data without checking it, your grade will suffer.

In general, the laboratory period will start with a brief open-book quiz ( = 10% of lab grade) to test on preparation. There will also be homework assignments due most weeks (= 10% of lab grade). There tend to be more quizzes and homework earlier in the term, as more new material on error analysis is encountered then. For similar reasons, most students find the earlier experiments somewhat harder. A practical examination during the last week of classes will count for 15% of the class grade. That leaves 65% for the scores on the regular lab reports. Labs covering a week of work count half of those covering 2 weeks. Grades have been typically assigned by a curve for students supervised by a particular instructor. The average grade has been fairly close to 3.0 recently.


The lab schedule is given in the table below. Print out the lab writeup for your next lab (if you haven't bought the course pack) and study it before class.

August 28

Computing and Graphing (including Reference Guide)

Report due week of Sept 4.

Sep 4  NO LAB (but turn in Lab 1 report and HW 1)
2 and 3  Sep 11

Random Error and Basic Statistics (Lab 2) and Simple Measurements and Error Estimation (Lab 3)

and HW 2 due

3, cont'd  Sep 18 Simple Measurements and Error Estimation (Lab 3) and HW 3; Lab 2 report due
4A  Sep 25

Free Fall

Lab 3report and HW 4 due

4B  Oct 2  Free Fall and HW 5
5A  Oct 9 

Simple Pendulum and HW 6; Lab 4 report due


5B  Oct 16 Simple Pendulum and HW 7
6A  Oct 23 

Collisions in 1 Dimension and

HW 8; Lab 5 report due

6B  Oct 30 Collisions in 1 Dimension and HW 9
7A  Nov 6  Simple Harmonic Motion and HW 10; Lab 6 report due
7B  Nov 13 

Simple Harmonic Motion and HW 11

Lab report due week of Nov 20.

 --  Nov 20

NO CLASS (Thanksgiving)

But: Lab 7 report due

8 Nov 27

Rotational Motion  and HW 12;

--  Dec. 4 


Lab report 8 due

PA Course Pages Physics Astronomy Home