Physics Lab Policies for PHY 162

Description: At present MUH physics space does not support the 'Studio Phyiscs' intermixed approach used in Oxford.  Hence, the laboratory component continues to occur in the physics lab in Ren 306 for both PHY 162 and PHY 192.  Both groups complete the same experiments.

Textbook: No textbook is used. Laboratory instructions will be distributed each week.  Usually they will be available in advance at the Experiments page of this web.  Each student must purchase a blank laboratory notebook  which will be used for most lab reports. These are available in the bookstore.

Instructors:  Dr. Richard Drewes (

Course Website:                            

Course Purpose: The laboratory seeks to help students develop a better understanding of physics concepts being discussed in the associated "lecture" courses and to teach them transferable skills. Students observe natural phenomena, design experiments, take and analyze data. Students will use computers both for data analysis and as data acquisition tools. Students will also learn to use measuring instruments ranging from simple (metersticks) to complex (oscilloscopes).

Relation to the Miami Plan: Students will learn to look critically at the interpretation of data. They will learn about control of variables and measurement uncertainties. They will learn the many ways in which scientific research is subjective (for instance, how does a researcher know when they have taken enough data). They will learn the importance of careful observation and experimental technique. All these skills are essential for being able to analyze scientific data and reports which they will encounter all their lives if they want to be informed citizens.

In addition, the course stresses the "engaging with other learners" Miami Plan goal. Almost all laboratory activities are done in groups of two to four. It is very difficult for the group to achieve successful results without a lively exchange of ideas. The laboratories are designed so that everyone must be actively thinking about the phenomena not just making measurements and crunching numbers.

Attendance: The laboratory meets in 306 Rentschler.  Please be prompt. You will miss important instructions if you are late. You will then be a drag on your group because you don't know what is going on. Students arriving in a tardy manner on a consistent basis will be penalized. It is not fair to the lab partners when someone comes in overly late, hence you might be denied admission to lab because of a very late arrival. Attendance is very important. Absences will have a severe impact on your grade. Three absences from lab will result in a grade of 'F' for the course - lecture included!

Pre-lab work:  In general, you should read and think about the lab handout before coming to lab.  This will save your group considerable time in getting started.    In addition to reading the lab handout, you should print a copy and bring it to class with you..   Occasionally, due to the discovery nature of the lab, we will not want you to read before class.  In those cases, the handout will not be available on the website.

Grading: Your grades will be determined by attendance, participation, lab reports and lab exams. A lab midterm and lab final will make up 40% of your grade. The dates are reflected in the lab schedule. Lab reports will be graded on a satisfactory/unsatisfactory basis. An unsatisfactory, (U),  may be removed by completely rewriting the lab and resubmitting it within two weeks of the date the lab was originally performed. Occasionally scores of 'S-' will given to reports having lots of small errors, but no major ones.  Labs earning grades of S- cannot be rewritten to improve the grade, but the first two count the same as an S in the grading scheme.  Three S- count the same as one U.  The penalty for more than 3 S- is progressively greater.

Lab Reports: Please keep a record of your laboratory experience in a laboratory notebook. Treat the lab book as a diary; keep in it a complete record of what happens during the lab. You should write the notebook as you perform the experiment. Record carefully such things as what you do, what you see, what you measure, what you calculate and what you think about it. If the lab instructions have questions for you to answer, answer them as you come to them rather than segregate the questions together at the end. Do not write your results on scrap paper and plan on copying them into your notebook at a later date. This is very bad experimental procedure due the possibility of copying errors or losing the data altogether. Use ink (pencil is OK for graphs); we want a legible record of what you have done, but we are not concerned if it is tolerably messy. If you change your mind, cross out, but do not erase or tear out, what you have written.     Ideally lab reports will be completed and turned in during the lab period. For occasional labs that are longer than normal, you will be allowed to finish up data analysis at home and turn your notebook in on the following class period of your lecture class.  You will turn in the carbon copies from your notebook assuming they are legible.  Ocassionally a student's handwriting is such that the copies are not legible and in that case you will need to turn in the original.   You should set up a table of contents on the first page of the notebook.  At the beginning of each lab you should add the title of that lab and the page number on which your report begins to the table of contents.

Every experiment report should have a standard format.  The following items in bold italic font should be present in every report:  begin with a title, your name, names of your group members, date, purpose (what you expect to learn). Next, the procedure should very simply describe what you did and what the results were. Write in first person.  This description should be complete enough that if you needed to repeat the experiment, you could do so by following the procedure written in your notebook. You do not need to completely rewrite the procedure from the handout.  You are essentially summarizing the most important parts.  As a natural part of this, you will be describing the equipment you used. This is particularly important for measuring instruments. Did you measure a time using a stopwatch, the wall clock or your pulse (as Galileo did)? Feel free to draw diagrams to illustrate what you are doing. You should answer all questions posed in the laboratory handout. You should also include all observations you make. These observations do not have to be profound, often very simple ideas are important.

Data should be organized into tables and must include appropriate units. If calculations are performed on a calculator or computer, one sample calculation to illustrate the procedure should be included in your notebook. Be sure to remember to use significant figures appropriately when doing calculations. The data and calculations should be recorded at the point in the procedure at which they are done.   Do not place them separately at the end of the entire procedure.  (Note:   This is different than you may have been asked to do in other science labs.)

Often you will be making graphs of your data. In general, these should take up most of a page and the scales should be chosen so that the data is spread out over the available space (not all in one corner). Be sure to include labels and units on both axes.  Graphs made on the computer will be printed and stapled to your lab report.  No loose paper, please.

Each laboratory report should end with some concluding remarks. These might include such things as what you learned from the lab, your assessment of sources of error in the data collection or suggestions for improvement in the lab.


These pages are intended to benefit the Physics students at MUH.  This server is operated by Physics for the students in Science courses at MUH.   Comments and suggestions should go to the webmaster:

Barney Taylor
Physics Dept.
Miami University - Hamilton
1601 University Blvd. Hamilton, OH 45011
(513) 785-3016

last modified Jan, 2016