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Error Analysis

Dr. Anamika Sharma


June 18, 2015

Introduction

Measurements are an indispensable part of our lives, used on a day to day basis like- buying
fuel, grocery, industrual research, health check ups, laboratories and it is important that
they should be accurate enough to meet our needs. Measurement can never be immaculate,
there is always an uncartainty or error associated with it. So, for the completeness of our
measurements it is important for us to take into account this error. It will not be wrong
to say that measurements and uncertainty go hand in hand. The concept of uncertainty in
measurements is very much in agreement with Finagles laws of information which states
that- the information you have is not what you want. The information you want is not
what you need. The information you need is not what you can obtain. The information you
can obtain costs more than you want to pay. By the time you are towards the end of this
module you will realize how true it is. In laymans language the term error means blunder
but in science it means uncertainty .
Error analysis is a procedure used for calculating uncertainty or error in the result, the
calculated error is a measure of the reliability of the result. This error value is represented
by Greek letter (sigma) and is expressed in the same unit as result. It is always rounded
to one significant digit. Please note, here the usage of the word error does not refers to the
difference between measured and experimental value.
Note:- Error is an experimentally measured entity and and is always preceded by a
(plus minus) sign.

Accuracy and precission

Uncertainty relies highly upon two factors - precision and accuracy of the measuring
equipment. The higher is the accuracy and precision, the lower will be the uncertainty
and vice versa. Accuracy can be defined as the degree of closeness of a measured value to
the standard value. For example, if you obtain a reading for the volume of a liquid from
measuring cylinder as 5.4 cm3 while the standard volume of the liquid is 6.0 cm3 , then the
measurement is not accurate. Accuracy can be improved by calibrating the instrument.

Precission can be defined as the degree of closeness of repeated readings together. For example, if you take four consecutive set of readings for the volume of a liquid and eventually
obtain the same result each time as 5.4 cm3 , then the result is precise. Precision can be
improved by replicating the measurement multiple times.
Accuracy and precision are independent of each other and this can be best explained
with the help of figure 1a . The yellow circle in the middle represents the bulls eye. If all the
measurements are within the yellow circle and close to each other, they are both accurate
and precise. If all the measurements are far off from each other and the yellor circle as well,
they are both inaccurate and imprecise. if the measurements lie close to the yellow circle but
pretty much deviate from each other, they are accurate but imprecise. If the measurements
lie close to each other but far off from the yellow circle, they are precise but not accurate.

Expressing Errors

Measurement of a physical quantity is expressed in terms of measured value and error value
followed by a unit and can be expressed in word equation as:
Measurement = (measured value error value) unit
Example: (0.70 0.01) m
On comparing it with the above equation, we get the measured value as 0.70 m and error
value as 0.01 m
Simply knowing the technique and obtaining the measurement is not enough, interpretation of the data is also an essential part of working in the lab. Now, Consider an example
where the length of the rod is L = (80 1) cm. What information can you extract from
this expression? We can deduce that the measured value of length L is 80 cm and the error from this measurement is 1 cm. The maximum value of L that we may expect = (80
+ 1) cm = 81 cm and the minimum value of L that we may expect = (80 - 1) cm = 79
cm. Infact, our measured value 80 cm lies halfway between 79 cm and 81 cm. This implies
that if the measurement for the length of the rod is repeated multiple times then there is a
very high probability that the measured values will lie in-between the range 79 cm and 81 cm.
Now consider the equation Y = Ymeasured (Y)
Here, Ymeasured is the measured value of the physical quantity. (Y) is the estimate of
absolute error and bears the same unit as the quantity. (Y) gives a maximum range
within which our measured values fall each time when the measurement is obtained. Fractional or relative error is the ratio of (Y )/Ymeasured . It is a dimensionless quantity (as
the units in numerator and denominator cancel each other) and can be expressed in percent
form as:
Relative error = (Y )/Ymeasured 100
2

For example, the length L = (0.20 0.01) m; here the absolute error (L) is 0.01 m
0.01
and relative error (L)/Lmeasured can be calculated as 0.20
= 0.05 or 5%. This relative error
reveals that we know the length L upto a precission of 5%.

Reading Error from single measurement

Consider measuring the length (L) of the wooden block on the metre rule as shown below in
Figureb .
From the figure we can say that the length L is slightly greater than 1.9 cm and slightly
less than 2.0 cm or we can even say that the value of L is halfway between 1.9 cm and 2.0
cm. The value of one small division on the metre rule is 1 mm, making it tough to predict
the exact value and this is where the uncertainty comes into play. The expression for L can
be written as:
L L = (1.95 0.05) cm
This expression tells us that the value of L can be as high as (1.95 + 0.05) cm = 2.00
cm or as low as (1.95 - 0.05) cm = 1.90 cm and our measured value 1.95 cm is in-between
2.00 cm and 1.90 cm (and that is what we see from the figure). 0.05 defines a maximum
range in which our measured values will lie each time when the measurement is repeated.
Note: The uncertainty in a single measurement from a single instrument is half the least
count of the instrumentc .

Calculation of standard deviation

Consider measuring the time of oscillation for a simple pendulum using a stop watch. In
this case the significant source of error is the human reaction error - delay in starting and
stopping the stop watch and over shadows the read off error from the stop watch which
is unconsequential compared to human reaction error. In order to overcome this difficulty
measurements must be repeated multiple times and the error estimate can be calculated by
following simple steps described below.
Suppose in lab, you measure the time period (ti ) of a simple pendulum five times and
come up with the values t1 = 2.9 s, t2 = 2.5 s, t3 = 2.7 s, t4 = 2.5 s and t5 = 2.4 s; here, i= 1,
2,...5 and N is the number of times measurement is obtained which is 5 in this case.
Step 1: Calculating the average of five values <t>by summing up the individual values
and dividing by the number of values.
<t>=

2.9+2.5+2.7+2.5+2.4
5

= 2.6 s

Taking the average generates a value that is much more accurate compared to the value
that a single measurement may yield.
Step 2: Calculating the deviation 4t by subracting the average value from each ti,
4ti = ti - <t>
4t1 = 2.9 - 2.6 = 0.3 s
4t2 = 2.5 - 2.6 = -0.1 s
4t3 = 2.7 - 2.6 = 0.1 s
4t4 = 2.5 - 2.6 = -0.1 s
4t5 = 2.4 - 2.6 = -0. 2 s
You must be thinking why not we just average up all the deviations and express it as an
estimate of error, lets try and do this
<4t>=

o.3+(0.1)+0.1+(0.1)+(0.2)
5

=0s

The average of the deviations comes out to be zero, as the positive deviations are being
cancelled by the negative deviations. So, result of the average deviations cannot be expressed
as an estimate of error. To overcome this problem, we must think of a way to eliminate the
negative deviations and the best way to do this is by taking the square of the deviations;
which is the third step.
Step 3 : Calculating the square of the deviation 4ti 2 to make them positive.
4t1 2 = 0.09 s
4t2 2 = 0.01 s
4t3 2 = 0.01 s
4t4 2 = 0.01 s
4t5 2 = 0.04 s
Step 4 : Calculating the variance 2 (t), by adding the square of the deviations and
dividing by the number of values minus 1 (i.e N-1)
2 (t) =
=

1
51

1
4

1
N 1

(4t1 2 + 4t2 2 + 4t3 2 +4t4 2 + 4t5 2 )

(0.09 + 0.01 + 0.01 + 0.01 + 0.04) s

x 0.16 = 0.04 s

Step 5 : Calculating the standard deviation (t) =


(t) =

0.04 = 0.2 s

p
2 (t)

So, the measurement for time can be expressed as <t>(t) = (2.6 0.2) s. Large value
of indicates towards the result being imprecise. Here, 1N (inverse relationship) which
implies that as N increases, decreases. This is what we are doing here, in order to increase
the precision in value we are repeating the measurement multiple times i.e increasing the
number of N values.
Note : value must always be rounded to one significant digit.

Propagation of Error

Most of the times in lab you will come across the situation where the uncertainties linked
with directly measured quantities have to be substituted in a mathematical formula in order
to calculate the uncertainty associated with the desired quantity. It is important to note that
the unertainties from directly measured quantities are independent of each other but expressed
in same units. There are two basic methods of calculating the error propagation - Straight
forward method, which is very simple and the statistical method, which is very sophisticated
and precise. Section 6.1 and 6.2 deals with the calculation of propagated error employing
the straight forward and statistical method respectively, with the help of rules given below.

6.1
6.1.1

Calculation of error propagation using straight forward method


Addition and subtraction

Consider three quantities X, A and B and the uncertainties associated with them are (X),
(A) and (B), where A and B are the directly measured quantities and X is the desired
quantity. When X is expressed as a sum or difference of two quantities A and B, then uncertainty in X can be calculated by adding the absolute uncertainties from A and B.
If X = (A + B) or X = (A - B), then

(X) = (A) + (B)

(1)

Example, I have two steel rods of lengths L1 = (10 0.2) cm and L2 = (20 0.5)
cm. Using a super glue, I stick both the pieces together and intend to find the uncertainty
associated with the length of the composite rod.
Here, length of the composite bar L = L1 + L2 = 10 cm + 20 cm = 30 cm
Maximum value of L that we may expect is 10.2 cm + 20.5 cm = 30.7 cm
Minimum value of L that we may expect is 9.8 cm + 19.5 cm = 29.3 cm

Infact, the expected value of L which is 30 cm is halfway beween 30.7 cm and 29.3 cm.
Using equation (1) uncertainty in length of the composite bar can be calculated as:
(X) = (A) + (B)
= (0.2 + 0.5)cm
= 0.7cm
Thus, the required expression for the length of composite bar L (L)= (30 0.7) cm.
Now lets try to analyze the above problem from a different perspective. We know that
L (L) = (L1 L1 ) + (L2 L2 )
The largest possible value of (L) that we may expect :
(L) = [(L1 ) + (L2 )]
= [0.2 + 0.5]cm
= 0.7cm
The smallest possible value of (L) that we may expect :
(L) = [(L1 ) (L2 )]
= [0.2 0.5] cm
= [0.2 + 0.5] cm
= 0.7 cm
Now, combining the maximum and minimum values of (L), we obtain the range as 0.7
cm, which is same as the result obtained using equatin (1).
6.1.2

Multiplication and division

When X is expressed as a product or dividend of two physical quantities A and B, then, the
functional uncertainty in X can be calculated by adding the fractional uncertainties from A
and B.
If X = AB or X = A/B, then
(A) (B)
(X)
=
+
|X|
|A|
|B|

(2)

Note: To obtain the absolute value of (X) multiply both sides of the equation (2) with |X|
and we get,


(A) (B)
(X) = |X|
+
|A|
|B|
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Example, I have a rectanguar block of wood of length (L) = (20 0.2) cm and width
(W) = (10 0.2) cm and I intend to calculate the uncertainty linked with the area A.
Area of rectangular block A = L W = (20 cm 10 cm) = 200 cm2 . The maximum
expected value of A = (20.2 10.2) cm2 = 206.04 cm2 and the minimum expected value of
A = (19.8 9.8) cm2 = 194.04 cm2 . The calculated value of A = 200 cm2 lies almost inbetween 194.04 cm2 and 206.04 cm2 . Using equation (2) value of (A) can be calculated as:
(A)
=
|A|

(L) (W )
+
|L|
|W |

Relative uncertainty in length

(L)
|L|

0.2
20

= 0.01

Relative uncertainty in width

(W )
|W |

0.2
10

= 0.02

Substituting the values of |A|, (L)/|L| and (W)/|W | into the above equation, we get
(A) = 200 (0.01 + 0.02) cm2
= 6 cm2
Thus the required expression for the area of the rectangular woodden block is A (A) =
(200 6) cm2 .
6.1.3

Powers

If Z = An then the relative uncertainty in Z can be calculated by taking the product of relative
uncertainty in A and |n|.


(A)
(Z)
= |n|
(3)
|Z|
|A|
Note: To obtain the absolute value of (Z) multiply both the sides of equation (3) with |Z|
and we get,


(A)
(Z) = |Z| |n|
|A|
Example, I have a cube with length of each side (A) = (5.05 0.01) cm2 and I wish to
calculate the uncertainty clinged to the volume (V) of the cube.
The volume of the cube can be calculated using the formula V = A3 = (5.05)3 cm3 =
128.787625 cm3 = 128.79 cm3 . Using equation (3) the uncertainty in V can be calculated

as:


(V )
(A)
= |3|
|V |
|A|


0.01
=3
5.05
= 0.0059405941
(V ) = |V | 0.0059405941
= 128.79 0.0059405941 cm3
= 0.765075cm3
= 0.8 cm3
Thus, the rquired expression for the volume of the cube is V (V) = (128.79 0.8) cm3

6.2

Calculation of error propagation using statistical method

The statistical method is very sophisticated and yields precise results compared to the
straight forward method. This method considers multiple uncertainties to be random and
mutually independent from each other, that is why they add up in quadrature. The rules
for calculation of propagated error using the statistical method are elaborately discussed
in FLAP module 1.2. In his section a direct comparison will be made between the results
obtained by both the methods.
6.2.1

Addition and subtraction

When X is expressed as a sum or difference of two mutually independent quantities A and


B, then statistically, uncertainties add up in quadrature. If X = (A + B) or X = (A - B),
then,
s
2
2 
(X) =
(A) + (B)
(4)
In order to compare the results obtained by statistical method and straight forward
method, let us consider the same example in sub section 6.1.1. Using equation (4) uncertainty
in length of the composite bar can be calculated as:
p
2 (L1 ) + 2 (L2 )
p
= (0.2)2 + (0.5)2 cm

= 0.04 + 0.25 cm

= 0.29 cm
= 0.538cm
= 0.5 cm (one significant figure)

(L) =

Length of the composite bar L = L1 +L2 = 10 cm + 20 cm = 30 cm. Thus the required


expression for the length of the composite bar becomes L (L) = (30 0.5) cm.
The result obtained by statistical method is precise by 1.6% compared to 2.3 % precision
obtained by the straight forward method. An interesting thing to note here is that the
quadrature sum is always less than the direct sum of the uncertainties.
6.2.2

Multiplication and division

When X is expressed as a product or dividend of two mutually independent quantities A and


B, then statistically, functional uncertainties add in quadrature. If X = AB or X = A/B,
then
s
2 
2
(A)
(B)
(X)
+
(5)
=
|X|
|A|
|B|
Note: To obtain the absolute value of (X) multiply both sides of equation (5) with |X|
and we get,
s
2 
2
(A)
(B)
(X) = |X|
+
|A|
|B|
Let us consider the example in subsection 6.1.2. The uncertainty from the area of rectangular
block can be calculated as:
s

2 
2
(W )
(L)
+
|L|
|W |
s
2 
2
0.2
0.2
=
+
|20|
|10|
p
= (0.01)2 + (0.02)2

= 0.0001 + 0.0004

= 0.0005
= 0.0223606798

(A)
=
|A|

(A) =
=
=
=
=

|A| 0.0223606798
|20X10| cm2 0.0223606798
200 cm2 0.0223606798
4.47213596 cm2
4 cm2

The required expression for the area of the rectangular block is A(A) = (200 4) cm2 .
Employing the statistical method we get the result upto a precision of 2%, which is a lower
9

percentage, compared to 3% obtained from straight forward method. Also, the quadrature
sum of relative uncertainties is less than the direct sum of relative uncertainties.

Examples of error propagation

Example 1: The mathematical expression for acceleration due to gravity gis given as:
g=

4 2 L
T2

Where, L is the length of the pendulum (sum of the radius of the metal bob and length of
the string) and T is the time period. Our concern here is to calculate the (g) value.
The technique of solving this problem is to rewrite the above expression as a series of
multiplication and then applying the change of variables.
g=

4 2 L
g = 4 2 LT 2
T2

Let A = 4, B = 2 , C = L, D = T2 = g = ABCD
Here g is expressed as a product of A,B,C and D, on applying the multiplication rule, g
can be calculated as:

(g)
=
|g|

s

(A)
|A|

2


+

(B)
|B|

2


+

(C)
|C|

2


+

(D)
|D|

2

Now, separately calculating the relative uncertainties for A, B,C and D.


(A)
(4)
=
= 0 (4 being a constant has no error)
|A|
|4|


(B)
()
= |2|
(using the power rule)
B
||
= 0 ( being a constant has no error)
Thus, these two terms do not contribute to the net error in g.
(C)
(L)
=
|C|
|L|


(D)
(T )
= | 2|
( (using the power rule)
|D|
|T |
Substituting the values of (A)/|A|, (C)/|C| and (D)/|D| in equation (6), we get,
10

(6)

(g)
=
|g|

s

(L)
|L

2

(T )
+ | 2|
|T |
s
2
2

(L)
(T )
=
+4
|L
|T |

2

Multiplying both sides of the equation by |g, we get the required expression for (g) as:
s
2
2

(L)
(T )
(g) = |g|
+4
|L
|T |
Example 2 : In lab the refractive index of the glass prism (n) can be calculated using
the expression:
sin 21 ( + m )
n=
sin 21
where, m is the angle of minimum deviation; is the angle of the equilateral prism and we
want to calculate the uncertainty in the refractive index of the prism i.e (n) value. To solve
this complicated problem we need to break it down into simple steps. Let
n=
where A =

1
2

sin 12 ( + m )
sin(A)
Y
=
=
1
sin(B)
X
sin 2

( + m ); B = 12 ; Y = sin(A) and X = sin(B).

Applying the division rule on n = Y/X, we get


s
2 
2
(n)
(X)
(Y )
+
=
|n|
|Y |
|X|

(7)

Now substituting the values of Y and X in equation (7) we get,


s
2 
2
(n)
sin(A)
sin(B)
=
+
|n|
| sin(A)|
| sin(B)|
Applying the trignometric function rule,

(n)
=
|n|

s

sin(A + (A)) sin(A (A)


2 sin A

2


+

sin(B + (B)) sin(B (B)


2 sin B

2
(8)

Now substituting the values of A and B in equation (8),

(n)
=
|n|

s

sin 12 ( + m + () + (m ) sin 12 ( + m () (m )
2 sin 21 ( + m )
11

2


+

sin 12 ( + () sin 12 (
2 sin 12

Multiplying both sides of the equation by |n|, we get the desired expression for calculating
the uncertainty in refractive index of prism, which is:
s
2 
sin 12 ( + m + () + (m ) sin 12 ( + m () (m )
sin 12 ( + () sin 12 (
(n) = |n|
+
2 sin 12 ( + m )
2 sin 12

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8.1

Exit questions
Question 1

Calculte the error in the sum of the lengths L1 = (300 0.4) cm and L2 = (100 0.1) cm.
Solution: Sum of lengths (L) = L1 + L2 = (300 + 100) cm = 400 cm
q
((L1 ))2 + ((L2 ))2 cm
(L) =
p
=
(0.4)2 + (0.1)2 cm

=
0.16 + 0.01 cm
= 0.4 cm

8.2

Question 2

Calculate the average and standard deviation for the set of data collected - M={10, 11, 10,
11, 10}. All the measurements are in kg.
Solution:
10 + 11 + 10 + 11 + 10
kg
5
52
=
kg
5
= 10.4 kg

Average < M > =

Standard deviation (M) = 0.5 kg. (For the step by step calculation refer to section 5 of
this module).

8.3

Question 3

Calculate the error in the kinetic energy of an object of mass (m) = (20.12 0.11) kg and
velocity (v) = (2.34 0.05) m/s. The expression for calculating kinetic energy is (K) =
1
mv 2 .
2
Solution:
1 2
mv
2
1
=
20.12 (2.34)2
2
= 55.08 J

K =

12

s

(K) =
=
=
=

8.4

2 
2
(v)
(m)
|K|
+ |2|
|m|
|v|
55.08 0.043083339 J
2.373 J
2J

Question 4

Derrive an expression for error (L) for the equation,


1
L=y+ b
2
where, L is the effective length of the pendulum, y is the length of the string and b is the
radius of the metal bob.
Solution :
s
  2
1
2
(L) =
(y) +
b
2
r
1
=
((y))2 + ((b))2
4

8.5

Question 5

Calculate M, given that


a) M = (m2 - m1 )
b) M= (m1 m2 )
where m1 = (2.7 0.2) kg and m2 = (4.2 0.3) kg.
Solution : a) M = (1.4 0.4) kg, b) M = (11.34 1) kg

8.6

Question 6

Calculate the perimeter of a triangle using the expression P = (a + b + c), if a = (12 2


cm, b = (8 2) cm and c = (6 2) cm.
Solution : P = (26 3) cm.

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