Syllabus for PHY252

Spring 2014



Laboratories will begin on January 6, 2014 and run through April 25, 2014. There will be 11 experiments and 2 practical labs. The purpose of this course is to teach you how to make measurements of physical parameters and how to analyze and interpret them. Each week you will make measurements, tabulate and graph your data, evaluate uncertainties in your measurements, analyze the results of your experiment, and answer the questions given in the lab manual. For the regular lab experiments you will work with a lab partner that will be randomly assigned each week. For the practical labs you will work alone, so it is a good idea to make sure you understand how to do all aspects of each experiment. A schedule of the experiments is available from the course web page found here.

You will find it very helpful to prepare (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 5 minutes of every lab period a closed book quiz will be given aimed at testing your readiness to perform that day's experiment. Please arrive on time or you will miss the quiz and the points. The quiz cannot be started when there is less than 1 minute to go in the 5 minutes allotted time.

All materials to be graded must be completed during your lab period and handed in to the instructor before you leave the lab; there will be ABSOLUTELY NO EXCEPTIONS. The lab report consists of a cover sheet (that can be downloaded from here) plus any spreadsheets (both data and formula views from Excel) and plots requested. Please print out and fill in the cover sheet (except for your lab partner's name) each week BEFORE coming to lab. At the bottom of any graph must be a statement of what is being plotted, and if a straight line fit is done, a quote of its parameters (e.g. slope and its uncertainty). In addition, the questions from the end of the lab write-up should be turned in with your data.

During practical labs, no outside notes, use of the Internet, calculators or discussions with other students are allowed. Students making use of unauthorized help on any lab (or practical) will receive a 0.0 for that lab and an Academic Dishonesty Report will be filed. For practical labs each student will perform one of the experiments that was done earlier in the semester by him or herself. The experimental write-up for the practical will be posted on the course website the week before the lab. It will be worth 20 points and you'll have 45 minutes to complete it. During the week of a practical, half of the class will do the lab during the first 45 minutes and the other half during the last 45 minutes of the lab period. A schedule will be arranged a week before the practical. There will be 2 practical labs.

All labs, including the practicals, will be graded by your instructor on a 20 point scale and will be handed back at the beginning of the next lab. The points will be distributed roughly as follows: quiz (3 pts), acquisition of data (5 pts), graphs and calculations (6 pts), and answers to questions (6 pts).

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 over another.  Within a group, the grades will be assigned strictly in order of points achieved.  The grade will be determined by a curve, not a "straight scale".  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 grade was incorrectly calculated.

Plagiarism or copying will not be tolerated. Lab partners are expected to turn in copies of the same Excel spreadsheets and graphs BUT answers to the questions and comments on graphs are not to be the same. Lab partners turning in identical answers (or slightly modified versions) will BOTH receive 0.0s for that lab. Any lab report that copies directly from the lab manual will receive a 0.0. Lab reports from previous semesters may not be used as reference material during the lab. If an instructor sees a student looking at a previous version of the lab (either electronically or on paper) during class the student will receive a 0.0 for that lab. In all cases an Academic Dishonesty Report will be filed as required by the university for any penalty grade given (see MSU's policy on Academic Integrity at

Because personally participating in each laboratory is an 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 contact your instructor beforehand and provide an explanatory note with suitable documentation. Make-up labs will be limited to attending another lab section during the same week (as the equipment changes each week) that has less than 20 students enrolled. Please note that most sections are currently full so it may not be possible to find room in another section for a make-up lab. 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 doctor). Your TA is in charge of finding you an open lab slot for a make-up. Do not show up at another section without prior arrangements or you will not be admitted. 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 (which can be one of your practical labs) before computing your grade. Absences that are not excused will receive a 0.0 for that lab and cannot be used as your dropped score.

Students with disabilities and/or any other special needs should identify themselves to the instructor during the first week of class. You must provide a copy (or an email) of your VISA from the RCPD office to both your instructor and the lab coordinator (Prof. Tollefson) by the end of the second week of class. Individual arrangements will be made to accommodate those needs on a case-by-case basis. It may not be possible to honor VISAs that are presented to the instructor after the second week of class. For example, you will not be allowed extra time on the practical lab if you did not give your VISA to the instructor at the beginning of the semester.

Your lab instructor (the TA) is in charge of all aspects of laboratory procedures. Please confer with him/her if you have a problem, since they can ordinarily solve most of them. Communications regarding the day-to-day operations (such as a missed lab) should be directed to your TA, NOT the lab coordinator. Your TA will provide you with their email address and office hours at the beginning of the semester. If you have concerns about a score on a lab you must make an appointment to meet with your lab instructor outside of lab time. TAs will not respond to questions concerning individual lab grades while a lab section is in session. A list of the TAs by section and their email addresses can be found here.

If there are issues that your TA cannot address, you should contact the lab coordinator Prof. Tollefson. Please arrange an appointment by emailing


  Bring a USB memory stick so you can save your files as you work. There is no space on the computers in the lab for your files.

  SAVE YOUR DATA OFTEN!!! There are no student data back-ups and all data is deleted when you log-off the computer at the end of the lab period.

  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.


Your lab report must be completed during the lab period and handed in to the instructor before you leave. More details and instructions regarding the components of a lab report can be found here. In brief, your report should include the following components in this order:

Your grade will depend on how clear, accurate and brief you are. Copying of text from others is expressly forbidden. Lab reports that show evidence of plagiarism will receive a 0.0.


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

Here is a brief description of the software tools you will use in the physics labs:

I. Microsoft Excel
This is a spreadsheet program which you will use to record/store your data. Each experiment has its own Excel spreadsheet already set up for you on the lab computer. Appendix B (found here) has a list of useful Excel commands.

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 can make a best fit for the parameters of an expected functional dependence and include the results on the plot. The plot can be saved, printed and should be attached to your worksheets.

Last update: January 2, 2014