Physics Laboratory with Dr. Gallis

Physics Laboratory is an integral component of many introductory physics classes, including Physics 150, 151 (Technical Physics), Physics 250,251 (Introductory Physics) and Physics 211-214 (General Physics) . Consult your academic adviser to be sure that you are taking appropriate courses (with or without laboratory), in the proper sequence, and with the specified prerequisites and corequisites.

Purpose of the Laboratory

The laboratory portion of the course serves a number of functions. It provides hands-on physical demonstrations of the principles being explored in the lecture portion of the course. It is an opportunity for students to become familiar with various types of laboratory equipment. It exposes students to the practical limitations of measurement and laboratory techniques, and allows students to hone their critical thinking skills as they analyze their results and compare them to theory and accepted values in the context of these limitations.


The students will receive laboratory handouts in advance of the actual laboratory session. The students are to read these handouts before the beginning of class. The handouts are intended to provided some theory, a description of the apparatus and a basic procedure. Because of the rather "cook book" nature of some of the handouts, the students will do more in depth experiments, following the instructor's directions during the lab. As a result, the student should, during lab, make note of any extensive change in the procedures as implemented in contrast to those found in the handouts.


Laboratory groups will be assigned by the instructor. Individuals are expected to work closely with others in their group during the laboratory. Discussion of the ongoing experiments between groups is also encouraged, to the extent that such discussion does not prevent completion of the laboratory tasks. Students are also strongly encouraged to discuss the experiment outside of class before writing their individual laboratory reports.


Students are to write individual lab reports, written in the third person. Reports must be word-processed (however equations, tables, graphs, and diagrams may be done neatly by hand if it will save the student significant time). The test of the report is to be in Times or Times New Roman Font at 14 point font size. No portion of the handouts are to be included in the report (fresh, neat tables are to be done by the students). Graphs, computer printouts, etc. generated in the laboratory are to be included in the report. Every report is to include the following sections.

Title Page

This includes the title of the laboratory (from the syllabus), the date the experiment was performed, the author of the report, and the authors laboratory partners. The author should be clearly indicated. [the following sections need not take an entire page themselves]


One or two sentences which describe the purpose of the laboratory. Although the handouts can provide some inspiration for this, the students are to put this in their own words.


This section usually consists of a sentence which cites the handout by its title. For example "The procedure for this experiment can be found in the handout entitled 'The Index of Refraction by Prism Spectrometer'.". Students should provide additional details if the instructor's procedure differs significantly from the one found in the handout.

Data and Results

This section consists of the (raw) data as measured during the laboratory as well as the final results (based on calculations and the raw data). Final results include any comparisons with theory and/or accepted values (usually in terms of a percent difference). This section will consist primarily of tables and/or graphs, and all table entries should display an appropriate number of significant figures. Under no circumstances should results be crammed into multi page tables; rather, it may be necessary to break the information into separate tables (raw data vs. results vs. comparisons with accepted/theoretical values etc). Any and all graphs or printouts produced in lab must be included in this section. This section is the second most important section of the report; anyone reading the report should be able to tell at a glance or with a cursory reading how well the experiment went. Note: If the Data and Results section is too large or cumbersome, it may be split into two sections if the report will be more easily read in that format.

Sample Calculations

Examples of any calculations done in the results section of the report (that is, one example with actual numbers from the lab should illustrate each type of calculation once). Samples of any calculations done by spread-sheets or other computer programs provided by the instructor should be reproduced here unless the instructor explicitly indicates otherwise.

Comments and Conclusions

This section is a commentary by the student on the results of the experiment. The student should explicitly state how well the students result agree with theory and/or accepted values. The student should also discuss what "went right" and what "went wrong" in the laboratory. Identify the sources of uncertainty in measurement in the lab (be specific and avoid useless catchphrases such as “human error”), and speculate how the experiment might be improved. This is the most important section of the report, and should be clear and well thought out.