Syllabus for PHY251

Summer I 2014



Laboratories will begin on May 12, 2014 and run through June 24, 2014 . There will be 12 experiments. The purpose of this course is to learn 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. You will rotate lab partners throughout the semester. Experiments in the course will involve material before it is covered in PHY 231C.


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.

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; 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 each week BEFORE coming to lab. Sample calculations are required for each formula that was entered into your spreadsheet to verify it was done correctly. 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, any worksheets containing questions to be answered 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 for the practical will receive a 0.0 for that practical. 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 after the last section has completed Elastic Collisions for practical 1 and Waves on a String 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/or 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. The points will be distributed roughly as follows: acquisition of data (6 pts), graphs and calculations (7 pts), and answers to questions (7 pts).

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".  Please obtain from your instructor and save your graded lab reports. You will need all of these if, at the end of the semester, you think your score wasn't correctly calculated.

Lab partners are expected to turn in copies of the same Excel data sheets and graphsBUT 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 a penalty grade of zero for that lab. Any plagiarism, copying or cheating will result in a penalty grade of zero for the lab and the submission of an Academic Dishonesty Report for placement in the student's permanent record. MSU's policy on Academic Integrity is part of this syllabus, please review it at Penalty grades will not be used as a 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(i.e. 0-5 minutes late two points are deducted, 5-10 minutes late four points are deducted,...). 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 Wednesdays 11AM - noon 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. (i.e.: a missed lab, attending another section, etc.)

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, most of the sections are typically full so it may not be possible to find room in another section. 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 Patient Instructions form 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). Only one lab will be dropped. The dropped lab accounts for all unforeseen occurrences such as, illnesses, accidents, family emergencies, etc. No make ups will be given for students not on campus at the start of the session. In addition, students are expected to be available to attend all labs for the duration of this accelerated course. Missing labs for planned events like vacations or weddings are not legitamte reasons for missing labs. Students with such obligations should not enroll in this class.

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 TA and the lab coordinator by the end of the first 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 first week of class.

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 his/her 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.

If there are issues that your TA cannot address, you should contact the lab coordinator Richard Hallstein. Please set up an appointment by email to


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.



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 are listed in Appendix C of your lab manual. In brief, the report should include the following components in this order:

In your report, explain how you identified and tried to solve problems in the experiment. If your data do not correspond to the anticipated results, you should explain what went wrong. "Human error" does not count as an explanation, be more specific if your results are different from what you expected. Your grade will depend on how clear, accurate and brief you are. Copying of text from others, the internet, old lab reports, the lab manual etc. is expressly forbidden. Lab reports that show evidence of plagiarism will receive a penalty grade of 0.


Last update: April 11, 2014