Syllabus for PHY251

Summer I 2011



Laboratories will begin on May 16 , 2011 and run through June 30, 2011 . There will be 12 experiments. The purpose of this course is to teach you how to make measurements of physical quantities 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 given in the laboratory manual. Two of these experiments will be practical labs in which you will work alone. At least two times during the course you will change to a new lab partner.

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. All the materials to be graded (your lab report including data sheets, graphs, answers to questions) must be completed during your lab period and handed in to the instructor before you leave the lab.

The lab report consists of a data sheet in the form of an Excel spreadsheet, formula view of the Excel spreadsheet, graphs with comments and answers to questions. Write your name, your student number, lab partner's name and section number on this data sheet.

During practical labs, no outside notes, calculators or discussions with other students are allowed. After the last session of experiment preceeding the each practical lab has finished, the experiemntal write-up will be available on the course website (i.e. after experiment 6B for practical 1 and experiment 11 for practical 2). During the practical lab, you will be given a copy of the experimental write-up to use. The practical lab will be based on one or more of the experiments that you have already completed. It could consist of measuring and analyzing data, analyzing a prepared set of data and answering questions. The time limit on the practical lab will be 45 minutes.

All labs, including practical labs will be graded by your instructor on a 20 point scale and will be handed back at the beginning of the next lab.

Your grade will be based on the total number of points during the semester.  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".  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.

Make up labs are limited to attending another regularly section on a date in which the experiment is being performed and are only available for students who miss a lab for a legitimate reason. 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 must inform your instructor beforehand, and provide an explanatory note with suitable documentation. If there is room in another section, you can make arrangements with your lab instructor to make up the lab by attending a different section. However, many of the sections are full so it may not be possible to find room in another section. In addition, arrangements to attend another section must be made with your lab instructor. If you miss a lab for an unanticipated reason, such as illness, you must notify your instructor no later than 24 hours after the missed lab and provide suitable documentation (i.e. a note from your MD). To ease the burden on students who miss a lab due to a legitimate reason, we will drop the lowest lab score of the semester before computing your grade (a practical lab can be used for this dropped lab).

Attendance in the lab is mandatory and there will be a penalty for arriving late to class. Two points will be removed from the Lab score for every five minutes that a student is tardy in coming to the lab. In addition, those arriving late to class will not be allowed to benefit from the work of students who arrive on time (i.e. joining a group who started the experiment on time will not be permitted). To account for the difference in clocks, you should try to arrive early to the class.

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

The laboratory coordinator for this course is Richard Hallstein. His office hours are Tuesday 10:30am - 11:30am in room 1253BPS. If you cannot make this office hour and would like to make an appointment send an e-mail to 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.

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.


  Bring a flash memory stick so you can save your files as you work. There is no space on the computers to save your lab files!

 SAVE YOUR DATA OFTEN!! If something happens to your work during the lab and it is destroyed, you will have to do the lab again.

  All the necessary computer software and spreadsheets will be on the computer when you start, so you should not have to search for items.

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


Last update: March 24, 1011