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# EXPERIMENTAL ERROR

Absolute certainty is a privilege of uneducated minds - and fanatics. It is, for scientific folk, an unattainable ideal. Cassius Kuyser Physics is primarily a science of measurement and the explanation of the meaning of that measurement. In the real world of measurement, it is impossible to be exact. There are too many ways that uncertainty can creep into the measurement. Some of the possibilities include: (1) random variation of the measured quantity from one reading to another (measurements differ from one another in a random manner due only to the inherent nature of measurement) Example: measuring the length of the edge of a book yields 25.2 cm, 24.9 cm, 25.3 cm, 25.5 cm, and 24.9 cm, (2) calibration error of the measuring instrument (all instruments are built to a limited precision) Example: The manufacturer of the ruler (our meter sticks) states that his methods of manufacture make a ruler which is accurate to 2 mm of the true length for 1.000 m, (3) inaccuracy of the instrument (a worn or heavily used measuring instrument will sometimes develop a bias or consistent inaccuracy) Example: The ruler is made of wood which has dried out over time and shrunk so it always show a value that is too large, (4) bias on the part of the measurer (the measurer will read the instrument in various manners which may contribute to random variation or may contribute to always making the measurement too small or too large) Example: The measurer was told the edge of the book is 25.0 cm so the numbers are read to be close to that value. The definition of experimental error ( ) is the difference between the actual or true value of measurement (ztrue) and the measured value (zmeas).

= |ztrue - zmeas|
Error is therefore an indication of the uncertainty of the accuracy of the measurement. Types Of Error. The above examples of error can be divided into two types indeterminate or random and determinate or systematic. Random Error

Example number 1 is an example of random error. The best method of dealing with this type is by taking many measurements and apply statistical methods. If the number of measurements is large, then the measurements will approach that of a normal distribution (Gaussian curve), and the determination of averages, deviations, and the standard deviation provide useful information about the accuracy of the measurement. The average or the mean is the most likely value of this statistical model. For the example of the length of the edge of the book the mean is (25.2 cm + 24.9 cm + 25.3 cm + 25.5 cm + 24.9 cm)/5 = (125.8)/5 = 25.16 cm The deviation from the mean is the absolute value of the difference between a measured value and the mean. The mean of the deviation (average deviation) is an indicator of the precision of the measurement. The smaller the average deviation, the more precise the measurement is likely to be. The average deviation of the mean is (|25.2 - 25.16| + |24.9 - 25.16| + |25.3 - 25.16| + |25.5 - 25.16| + |24.9 - 25.16|)/5 =(0.0 cm + 0.3 cm + 0.1 cm + 0.2 cm + 0.3 cm)/5 = 0.2 cm. NOTE: Be sure to apply the rules for significant figures (see your text). The standard deviation is the most common method for determining the range of values which is most likely to include the true value. The formula for the standard deviation is n 1 where is the standard deviation, i is the deviation from the mean, and n is the number of trials or measurements. The standard deviation of the measurement of the edge of the book is = =

( )
i

( )
i

n 1

## . ( 0.0) 2 + ( 0.3) 2 + ( 01) 2 + ( 0.2) 2 + ( 0.3) 2 5 1 =

0.2 = 0.2cm 4 Applying the rules for significant figures requires that = 0.2 cm. The length of the edge of the book is now written as 25.2 cm 0.2 cm. Statistical theory tells us that for there is a 64% chance that the true value lies within 0.2 cm of the measured value of 25.2 cm. Systematic Error Most of the experiments in introductory physics are limited by the time of the laboratory period. Because of this time limit, it is usually not possible to make several measurements

of the same quantity. Under these conditions statistical methods of analysis are of little value. Examples 2 through 4 are all of the instrumental or systematic type of error which in principle can be accounted for. Bias (Example 4) can be avoided by careful measurement methods. Instrumental bias (Example 3) can be avoided by comparing the instrument to standards. Calibration uncertainty (Example 2) is considered in addition to statistical error or in the case of the experiments in introductory physics as the sole source of measurement uncertainty. It is the mathematical ways to handle the systematic error due to calibration uncertainty which will concern the rest of this introduction to error. The principle assumption will be that all possible sources of error must be included in the quoted uncertainty of measurement. For example if the edge of another book is quoted at 25.1 0.3 cm, it is assumed that calibration error and reading uncertainty (a type of human calibration error) are included. The absolute values of the errors are combined to provide the largest possible range of values. It is always assumed that all uncertainties combine to provide the largest possible uncertainty of measurement. The derivation of the formulae for determining instrumental error depends on the theory of partial differentials. However the results can be summed up in a few simple statements. For the purposes of this discussion we will refer to absolute uncertainty and fractional uncertainty. Absolute uncertainty is the uncertainty of a measurement expressed in the same units as the measurement. For example the absolute uncertainty of a current expressed as 1.22 A 0.03 A is 0.03 A. Fractional uncertainty is the uncertainty of a measurement expressed as a fractional value or as a percentage. For example, the fractional uncertainty of the current (1.02 A) in the above paragraph is 0.03 A/ 1.2 A = 0.02 or 2%. 1. If the measurement requires adding or subtracting values, the uncertainty of reading each value is added to the calibration uncertainty. All values must be expressed as absolute uncertainty. For example, in reading the ruler for measuring the edge of the book, it is best to use a reference other than the edge of the ruler. Thus a reading at one end of the ruler might be 2.0 cm and at the other end 26.9 cm. The length of the edge of the book is the difference of these two measurements or 26.9 cm - 2.0 cm = 24.9 cm. Suppose now that each mark can be determined to 0.3 mm because of the rounding of the edge of the book and the thickness of the tick marks indicating values of distance on the ruler. The reading uncertainty is then 0.3 mm at the 2.0 cm mark and 0.3 mm at the 26.9 cm mark for a reading uncertainty of 0.6 mm. Furthermore, the calibration error of the ruler was stated earlier to be 2 mm for each 100 cm or a fractional calibration error of 0.2 %. 0.2 % of 24.9 cm is 0.05 cm

From the above the grand total of the instrumental error would be 1.1 mm. In terms of a general formula, the uncertainty is = r1 + r2 + s where is the uncertainty in the length measurement, r1 is the reading uncertainty in the first reading of the meter stick, r2 if the reading uncertainty in the second reading of the meter stick, and s is the calculated uncertainty due to calibration uncertainty of the meter stick. Note that even though the readings are subtracted to determine the length, the uncertainties are added. 2. If measurements must be multiplied or divided a fractional uncertainty must first be calculated by dividing the uncertainty by the measured value. The fractional uncertainties are then added. The fractional uncertainty for the edge of the book is 1.1 mm 24.9 cm = 0.0044 or 0.44 %. If another dimension (width) is determined to be 10.2 cm 0.7 mm, the area of the cover of the book would be A = 24.9 cm 10.2 cm = 254 cm2 with the uncertainty being the sum of the fractional uncertainties or 0.0044 + 0.0069 = 0.0113 or 1.13%.

The uncertainty in cm2 would then be found by .0113 254 = 2.9 cm2. In terms of a general formula, the uncertainty is A w = + A w where each term (fraction) in the equation represents the fractional uncertainty for area A, length , and width w. Note: As in multiplication of two measurements, division also requires that fractional uncertainties be added. 3. Exponents and roots may be dealt with by multiplying the measurement(s) by a constant representing the absolute value of the exponent or the exponent representing the root. 4. Multiplicative constants such as or 2 have no uncertainty, they are exact. EXAMPLE: A simple pendulum is measured to be 15.0 cm using a meter stick that can be read to an accuracy of 1.0 mm at the bob (weight) and to 0.2 mm at the pivot or support end and has a calibration error of 0.2%, and the acceleration of gravity is known to be 9.80 m/s2 0.01 m/s2. Determine the uncertainty of the period of oscillation in seconds. The equation for the period of a simple pendulum is T = 2 g

First determine the uncertainty of the length of the pendulum () by adding the reading uncertainty at the left and right of the meter stick to the calibration error of the meter stick. (rule 1) = 10mm + 02mm + 0.002 150mm . = 15mm . Since the formula for a simple pendulum is complicated by multiplicative constants and the square root sign, we need to analyze it in terms of rules 2, 3, and 4. First rewrite the equation using exponents in place of the square root. 2 T = 2 g or
1 1

T = 2

2
1

g2

Now every factor is multiplied, divided or written with an exponent, and the rules should be clearer. According to rule 2 we will work with fractional uncertainties for T, and g, and according to rule 3 we will multiply and g by . Also according to rule 4, 2 and have no fractional uncertainty and are dropped from the expression for uncertainty. Thus T 1 1 g = + T 2 2 g Substituting T 1 015cm 1 . = + T 2 15.0cm 2 0.01 9.80 m s2 m s2

T 1 1 = 0.010 + 0.001 T 2 2 T = 0.0055 = 0.55% T To find the absolute uncertainty of the period in seconds, we must first calculate the period of oscillation of the pendulum. Using the equation for the period of a pendulum given above, we get T = 2 0150m . = 0.777s m 9.80 2 s

The absolute uncertainty of the period is then T = 0.0055 T = 0.0055 0.777s T = 0.0043s and T= 0.777 s 0.004 s