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Physics 221 - Laboratory information and policies

Laboratory Supervisor: Dr. Paula Herrera, 15 Physics, 294-2607; e-mail: siklody@iastate.edu
Lab homepage: on Blackboard
Book: Physics 221 Laboratory Manual, Spring 2013 edition. Available at the University Bookstore.
Laboratory Room: Physics Room 64

To pass the course, you must satisfactorily complete all the scheduled assignments and
experiments, including prelabs, in a timely manner.
Failure to do so will result in an F grade for the entire course.

Prelabs must be completed online before the corresponding lab. Prelabs can be submitted an unlimited
number of times. A minimum score of 50% is required to attend the lab. You will not be allowed to do
the lab if you have not completed the prelab.
Prelabs will be closed two days after the last section has performed each lab, at 11:59 PM.

Sign-up sheet

An attendance sheet will circulate in the lab during every session. It is your responsibility to make sure
your name is on that sheet
it is legible (PRINT!)

This sheet is what proves that you attended the lab. Treat it as a document with legal value.

Laboratory Waivers
If you are repeating this course and you successfully completed the lab portion previously, you may
request an optional waiver of the laboratory.
Waivers must be requested during the first week of classes. If you are granted a lab waiver, you do not
need to attend lab sections, but you are still required to attend and participate in recitation. Also, note
The old lab score will be used if you completed your labs during or after Fall 2009. If you
completed the labs before Fall 2009, the lab portion of your grades will be computed based on
your recitation and homework performance, so you really want to make sure that you excel on
You will take the same exams as others, including any questions concerning lab.
Lab waiver request forms are available on Blackboard.

Absences from Laboratory
All labs must be completed, so you must do a make-up lab to account for any lab you miss.
Whether you use Method A or Method B described below, you must:

Complete the Make-up Lab Form (available in the lab).
Have it signed and dated by the attending instructor.
Make sure that the attending instructor writes your in-lab score on that Form before you leave
the room.
Attach the Form to your lab report and turn it all in to your regular instructor at the beginning
of your next regular lab session.

Method A: During the semester (preferred)
If possible, perform the experiment that you missed in a section other than your own, while the
equipment is still available.
The lab schedule for all sections is posted on Blackboard.
If an absence can be foreseen, the make-up lab may be performed before your regularly
scheduled lab.

Method B: During the last week of class
If you were unable to do the missed experiment as described above, you should attend the
make-up sessions during the last week of classes. Two replacement make-up experiments will
be available. It will not be possible to make up more than two experiments during these days.
You may attend at any of the scheduled times that is convenient.
Toward the end of the semester, make-up schedules and copies of the write-ups for make-up
experiments will be available for downloading on Blackboard.

Permission to do more than two make-ups
Students are not allowed to do more than two make-ups during the semester, unless they have
obtained permission from the laboratory supervisor (Paula Herrera, siklody@iastate.edu).
A student who is unable to attend his/her regular lab class because of frequent conflicts must process a
section change with the registrar's office; the make-up procedure may not be used in such cases.


Grading in the physics laboratories

Every experiment has three scores:

Prelab: 3 points
This score is displayed as a percentage on Blackboard. You will not be admitted to the lab if you have
less that 50% in the corresponding prelab.

In-lab: 2 points
This score is based on participation, attitude, and dedication to serious, careful work. It is assigned by
the instructor at the end of each session.

Lab report: 5 points
After each experiment, you should write a report about your attempts to answer the question of the
day. This report should include:
The question of the day
A description of the experimental setup, if it was not completely described in the write-up
All relevant data and graphs, appropriately labeled (this part can be printouts obtained during
the lab)
Detailed explanation of the data analysis and results

In particular, the report should NOT include:
Detailed descriptions of the equipment that are already in the lab manual
Details about the activities that are not directly related to the question of the day (although
these activities should of course still be performed carefully in the lab, as they usually allow
students to understand how to use the equipment)
A long restatement of the theory behind the experiment

Note that this is not the (longer) formal report that you may have learned to do in other science courses.
Focus on the line of reasoning, on proving that you understood the data, its analysis and why
conclusions can or cannot be drawn from it. Adding hand-written formulas and figures to the printed
document is perfectly acceptable.

The next page shows a rubric that will help you make sure that your report contains all the necessary
parts. This rubric will be used by instructors to grade your report. (Your score for each lab report will be
the total from this rubric, divided by 4)



A lab title is clearly present at the beginning
of the lab report

(1 point)
A lab title is missing from the
lab report

(0 points)


The objective is clearly stated and accurately
reflects the purpose of the lab

(2 points)
The objective is stated but does
not accurately reflect the
purpose of the lab

(1 point)
The objective is not included
in the lab report

(0 points)



A sketch of the experimental setup and a
brief description of what was done are
included in the report. When setup is
designed by student, this must be clear
enough so that the experiment could be

(3 points)
A sketch and description of the
experiment are included but are
not clear enough so that the
experiment could be

(2 points)
Either the sketch or the
description of what was done
is missing from the report.

(1 point)
The sketch and
description of what
was done are both
missing from the

(0 points)


Data is complete and is presented in tables
or graphs. All proper units and labels are

(4 points)
Data is complete but may not be
presented in a neat manner or is
missing some proper units
and/or labels.

(2 points)
Data is incomplete
(missing measurements,
observations, or given

(1 point)
Data is not present in
the lab report

(0 points)




Calculations are clearly indicated in a neat,
orderly fashion. Results are presented
tables when appropriate. All formulas and
units are present.

(5 points)
Calculations are indicated but:
There are minor errors
Presentation is not neat
Formulas or units are missing.

(4 points)
Some calculations are missing
from the lab report


There are some major errors
in the calculations.

(2 points)
The calculations are in
complete error or are
missing from the

(0 points)

The conclusion includes a discussion of the
results that:
Cites specific evidence
Relates results to the question of the day
Discusses the validity of the experiment,
including experimental error.
If results are bad, the discussion includes
A reasoning of why they are thought to be
Possible causes
Suggestion of improvements.

(5 points)
The conclusion lacks ONE of the
items in the previous box.

(4 points)
The conclusion lacks TWO of
the items in the first box.

(2 points)
The conclusion is
grossly incomplete or
is not present

(0 points)

Each report is due at the beginning of the following experiment. If you fail to meet this deadline, you
will get no credit for the report, but you should still turn it in otherwise the lab will be considered
unsatisfactory and you will have to do a make-up to replace it.
If you miss your regular section, you are still responsible for turning in on time the lab report that was
due at the beginning of that experiment. Your report will be considered late unless it is given to the
instructor or placed in the Homework mailbox next to the Physics Main Office (room 12), on or before
the day the report is due.
Exceptions and extensions will be granted in cases of emergency or illness, but you need to contact your
instructor as soon as possible to discuss the special arrangement.

The last labs report will be just the notes taken during the lab, which should be turned in to the
instructor at the end of the session.

In general, a lab will be considered unsatisfactory if:
The prelab score is less than 50%
No lab report is turned in.

Blackboard grade book

Students should regularly check that all lab scores have been correctly and timely entered online. If a
score is missing or is incorrect, please inform your instructor immediately (and contact the laboratory
supervisor if the problem is not taken care of). This is particularly important since all labs must be
completed to pass the course!

Grading philosophy
Lab grades should be based on good laboratory practice, not on results. The lab portion of this class has
one obvious goal of helping students achieve a better understanding of the theoretical principles of
physics presented in lecture and recitation.
An equally important goal, however, is learning the fundamental structure of a scientific experiment:

1. Beginning question: What do you plan to check or test?
2. Design: Which experimental setup do you plan to use? Which physical quantities will you
measure, how will you measure them, how should they be related?
3. Data collection: Calibration and testing of apparatus. Measuring and recording.
4. Analysis: Using the relations foreseen in the plan (or others if results are not as expected),
calculate desired quantities. Estimation of error.
5. Conclusions: Answer to beginning question.

Throughout the entire process, proper Documentation of each step is essential. If your result is not
reproducible, it is not science.


Do not rush!
Skipping any of the steps above is the perfect recipe for unreliable results. Science requires precision
and control of all possible factors that could affect the measurements.
Checks are made that the track is leveled; the system is clean, etc.
Calibration is carefully done and tested.
Students are aware of the limitations and range of use of the equipment.
Caution is exercised with delicate material, limits of current and voltage, etc.
Details are documented.
Regular checks that data makes sense are performed.

Completing a larger number of activities is by no means a guaranty of a better grade.

Beginning question and design
While some of the activities in a given lab write-up are quite strictly pre-defined, others require
planning. Goals and design details should be discussed and documented.

Making mistakes is an intrinsic part of science
Example 1:
A group obtains bad data because the apparatus is malfunctioning but they are able to detect that
their data does not make sense. They try to investigate the cause of the problem and solve it. This
group should get an excellent score, because this is good laboratory practice.
Example 2:
A group obtains perfect data but just moves on quickly from one experiment to the next without
stopping to analyze the data and see what it means. This group is doing a poor job!

Each student is expected to keep an orderly journal.
Data should be labeled and should include units.
Most of the time, tables should be used. Data scattered throughout the page is not a good lab
If a section of the experiment failed, students should not cross out the data! They should
instead discuss below why this happened. Understanding the origin of unsatisfactory data is as
important as obtaining a good run.


Analysis and conclusions
Data analysis is KEY. Otherwise, your measurements are just a decorative collection of numbers. A few
Calculations are done on paper (not on your calculator keys or only in your head!) and shown.
Use of appropriate number of significant figures.
Plotting the data on a graph is often a powerful tool.
Even if our software allows for multi-function fits, it is always best to transform the data to
obtain a linear behavior.
Deviations from expected behavior should be noted and discussed (Example: A graph was
expected to intersect at the origin and it does not).
Taking one or two pairs of values is by no means a way to check an equation. The rule of thumb
in science is that the larger the sample, the more precise the result (but do not spend the entire
session taking 200 points for one experiment). You cannot do a linear fit with less than 4 points.
A final number is completely meaningless unless accompanied by error estimation. At this level,
only a rough estimation is required, but it is an extremely important practice in experimental
Within the error of the experiment, is it possible to answer the beginning question? Are the
results significant?