Physics 116: Introductory Laboratory Experience

Department of Physics and Astronomy

Sonoma State University

Fall 2009


Class: Thursday 1:00 - 3:40 pm, Darwin 308

Instructor: Dr. Hongtao Shi

Phone: 664-2013


Office: Darwin 300J

Office Hours: Wednesday 4-5 pm, Thursday 10-11 am, or by appointment

Learning Objectives

Laboratory Schedule

Course Description and Goals: This is a lab based course, satisfying GE, category B1, and GE laboratory requirements. By performing these measurements, you will deepen your understanding of the material in Physics 114 and develop your experimental technique. Experiments concerning Newtonian mechanics, momentum, energy conservation, rocketry, rotation, simple harmonic oscillations, and thermodynamics will be performed.

Prerequisite: Previous or concurrent enrollment in Physics 114.

Text: No text is adopted for this course. All lab-related material will be posted on the web. Make sure you download those material BEFORE each lab.

Grading Policy: The laboratory grade will be based on the best twelve experiments (out of 13), worth 80%. You will also have three quizzes, worth 20%

Course Grade Percent
A 90-100
B 80-89
C 70-79
D 60-69
F Below 60

Prelaboratory Work: Each lab is worth 100 points, including prelaboratory work (10 points) and performing all the required work in the lab (90 points). The prelab work has a few questions to help you prepare for that week's laboratory. You earn these points if it is handed in before the laboratory starts.

Laboratory Notebooks and Reports: All laboratory reports are typed on a word processor. Draw in sketches or tables if your graphics and spreadsheet capabilities are limited. Please purchase a lab notebook that has the carbonless copy feature to record your original data. You will tear out the copies and hand them in along with the typed lab report at the beginning of the next laboratory period. The report is worth a maximum of 90 points.

Other Policies: Computer assisted analysis of the data where appropriate is expected. You can use DataStudio or Microsoft Excel or other graphical software that you are familiar with to plot your data and perform least square fitting routines that handle uncertainty estimates. EXCEPT FOR EXTRAORDINARY CIRCUMSTANCES, ABSENCES BEYOND ONE LAB CAN NOT BE MADE UP.

Laboratory Report Format. Total worth 90 points.
Always include your name, date and names of laboratory partner(s).


Drawing of experimental setup

5 pts


Record of raw data obtained with labels
Notes on data as you take it. Include all the data tables, graphs.

10 pts


Brief description how you did the experiment, i.e., procedure

10 pts


Experimental design, data analysis, and results including tables, graphs

40 pts


Answer all the questions at end

20 pts



5 pts

1) A simple sketch is best. This is a useful skill when you design your own experiments.

2) Your original data should be attached to your report. Plan ahead and organize your data taking before any measurement. This is best done before the laboratory period. All data tables need to be labeled with what the quantity is and the units.

3) Briefly describe how you implemented the experiment.

4) When it comes to your own design, make sure you include all the details, such as principles or theory, experimental procedures, data tables, and graphs.

Data reduction, background subtraction, and error estimates are in this section. The computer can be used to great advantage to draw the graphs, to do the least squares fitting, and to provide you with error estimates based on the scatter in the data. All graphs must have a title and axes labeled with units. The conclusions drawn from each graph need to be described in complete sentences (one or two is usually sufficient). A graph with no statement as to what it means is not going to earn the maximum grade.

5) Answer any questions at the end of the write up. Do the results fit the theory within errors? If the final result is many standard deviations from the expected value, try to find reasons why.

6) A concise summary comparing theory and experiment demonstrates you know what you are doing and makes for a professional report. The summary should be brief and based on your experimental results.

Additional factors:

a) Have you covered a sufficient range of input parameters to really test the theory? The test of a theory is more convincing if you use extreme values of the parameters as well as values in the middle.

b) The instructor is also looking at your original data to see if you made initial trials before taking the final data set. Does the technique and final set up reflect knowledge gained on initial trials? Real science seldom goes right on the first try.

c) Are some points repeated to check repeatability? Have you looked over the data while you are taking it and retaken suspicious points? If you analyze your data before taking down the equipment, you may be able to spot troublesome points, and repeat them.

d) Overall, have you tried during the laboratory to undertake a credible experiment within the limitations of the equipment available?

Do discuss the results with your partners, and perhaps the instructor, if the results seem odd.

Disability: If you have a disability and need special consideration, please contact the Office of Disabled Student Services ( DSS ). Located in Salazar Hall, Room 1049, Phone 664-2677.

Important University policies, such as add/drop classes, cheating and plagiarism, grade appeal procedures, can be found at

Email me if you have questions or comments.

Last updated 08/20/2009