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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.

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%.

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 .

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

x 0.16 = 0.04 s

(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

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

(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

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|

6

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 |

(L)

|L|

0.2

20

= 0.01

(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

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

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) =

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

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.

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

(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

s

2

2

(n)

(X)

(Y )

+

=

|n|

|Y |

|X|

(7)

s

2

2

(n)

sin(A)

sin(B)

=

+

|n|

| sin(A)|

| sin(B)|

Applying the trignometric function rule,

(n)

=

|n|

s

2 sin A

2

+

2 sin B

2

(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

8

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

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

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

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

cm, b = (8 2) cm and c = (6 2) cm.

Solution : P = (26 3) cm.

13

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