Syllabus - Physics 191
Fall Semester 2011

updated August 22, 2011

Lead Instructor:

Professor Lisa Lapidus
Room 4223 BPS Building

Office hours: Fridays, 2-4 PM
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 perform and analyze your own scientific measurements, but will require you to think through how best to perform the measurements, analyze, and interpret the results.


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. There is also a Reference Guide that should be brought to every class. 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 record your observations/data in a lab book.  This may be a traditional bound lab book or a spiral notebook.  You are not required to hand in a copy of these observations, but good notes will produce better lab reports.

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

6. To back up data for experiments, 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 each experiment).   You will collaborate with your partner in data taking, but you are expected to do independent calculations and write independent reports.  You must use the form provided for each lab report.  Do not change the formatting or the order or points will be deducted.  Each lab will take 2 weeks and 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, contact your instructor immediately!  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.

There will also be homework assignments due in alternate weeks with the lab reports (= 15% of lab grade).  A practical examination during the last week of classes will count for 20% of the class grade. That leaves 65% for the scores on the regular lab reports. There is no final exam in this course. Grades have been typically assigned by a curve for students supervised by a particular instructor.


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. All sessions will be held in the lab room BPS 1263.




Aug 31

Computing and Graphing

Reference Guide

Sept 12

Exp 1 report form

HW 1 due


Sep 19

Random Error and Basic Statistics

 Exp 1 report due


Sept 26

Exp 2 report form

HW 2 due


Oct 3

Free Fall

Exp 2 report due


Oct 10 

Exp 3 report form

HW 3 due 


Oct 17

Simple Pendulum

Exp 3 due


Oct 24

Exp 4 report form

HW 4 due


Oct 31

Elastic and Inelastic Collisions

 Exp 4 report due


Nov 7

Exp 5 report form


HW 5 due

Nov 14 

Simple Harmonic Motion


Exp 5 report due


Nov 21

NO CLASS (Thanksgiving)


Nov 28 

Exp 6 report form

HW 6 due


Dec. 5 


Lab 6 due

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