Syllabus - Physics 191
Fall Semester 2014

updated August 9, 2014

Lead Instructor:

Professor William Lynch
Room W106 Cyclotron Building

Office hours: Friday, 4:30-5:00 PM
Print this syllabus, which also contains the schedule for your course. The write-ups for the experiments are linked to the schedule at the end of this syllabus. Click here to find the instructor for your section.

Course Objectives and Description

In this course we will perform a series of experiments illustrating several principles of classical mechanics covered in the lecture courses. The analysis of these experiments is designed to give practical experience in quantitative measurement, organization and critical interpretation of results, and the evaluation of uncertainties necessary to scientific measurements. The official course description is here.


During this course, we expect you to:
* become familiar with some particular laboratory equipment and procedures.
* use reference materials to decide how best to carry out analyses measurements within the available time
* make careful and critical measurements.
* record and organize your observations in your lab report.
* estimate uncertainties in your measurements
* judge whether your measurements are consistent with previous measurements.

The laboratory exercises are meant to prepare you to perform and analyze your own scientific measurements, but will require you to think through how best to perform the measurements, analyze, and interpret the results.


1. You will need to print out this syllabus and bring it to class.

2. The textbook for this course is "An Introduction to Error Analysis" (2nd edition) by John R. Taylor, published by University Science Books.

3. The experiments are described on the PHY191 web pages linked to the schedule at the end of this syllabus. Before coming to class, you should print out the lab instructions write-up (you'll need Adobe PDF Reader) for the experiment you will be performing and bring it to the lab. We will not permit you to print out the lab manual on the printer in BPS 1263. There is also a Reference Guide that should be brought to every class. The alternative to printing the lab write-ups is to purchase the manual as a course pack from the Student Bookstore (on Grand River), which will contain all the printed materials except this syllabus.

4. You will perform labs that you complete over two weeks and labs that you complete in one lab session. At the end of the last session for a each lab, you must hand in your report for that lab.

5. You must record your observations/data and results you derive from your data. These should appear neatly written or printed on your lab report form and this will be part of your report. In addition, you will make plots, spread sheets and answer questions, all of which will be part of your lab report. You should print both the spreadsheet page with numbers and also a second print with the formulae displayed. If you use your laptop to perform computations, you should bring a memory stick so that you transfer files between your computer and the desktop computer that you and your lab partner will share. You may also use a traditional bound lab book or a spiral notebook.  You are not required to hand in a copy of these observations, but good notes will produce better lab reports.

6. Neatness and organization will contribute to the laboratory. The material in the report should be in the same sequence as in the lab manual, and if is not, there will be a mandatory point deduction.

7. You will need to bring to lab each week a scientific calculator. It would also be a good idea to bring a laptop computer, if you have one. Then you and your lab partner can both work on computers independently and finish your individual lab reports more easily.

8. To back up data for experiments, it is advised (but not required) that you bring a USB Flash Disk (sometimes also called a "thumb drive", "jump drive", "key disk", etc.). All data on the desktop computers in BPS 1263 are removed daily. Your data will not remain on the computer you will be using in BPS 1263. Alternatively, you may email your files to yourself. If you choose the email option, you should check that you have received the email before leaving.

9. Finally, because this is a physics lab, you will need access to a calculus-level physics text such as Fundamentals of Physics (Halliday et. al.) or Physics for Scientists and Engineers (Bauer et. al.).

Excel and Kaleidagraph will be used for data analysis in the lab sessions. Kaleidagraph is also available in the physics help room and can be downloaded temporarily, or purchased, at the Kaleidagraph web site. However, most students should not need to use Kaleidagraph outside the laboratory period.

Laboratory Procedures and Grading

You will do the experiments in groups of two (with a different partner for each experiment).   You will collaborate with your partner in data taking, but you are expected to do independent calculations and write independent reports.  You must use the form provided for each lab report.  Do not significantly change the formatting or the order or points will be deducted.  Most of the labs will take 2 weeks, but two of them will only take one week. In each case, the report for each lab will be handed in at the end of the final lab session for that specific lab. If you don't hand it in, you will lose credit for that lab. Late reports will not be accepted.  

Attendance is mandatory.  If you have an excused medical absence, contact your instructor immediately!  Your instructor will determine whether you will be permitted to do a makeup or whether you will be graded on the remaining reports. You are expected to arrive on time. There will be a 5 minute quiz (maximum) that will start at the begin of the class. If you come late, you will not be allowed to make it up. In addition, it's unfair to your lab partner and to other students when you arrive late.  If you arrive late, your lab score will also be reduced to reflect the class time that you missed.

Before each class, you will be expected to print and read the description of the experiment, and read sections of the book by Taylor to clarify how to perform the necessary error estimations.  This advance preparation is essential if you wish to successfully finish the lab.  Write your responses to “Questions for Discussion” in your lab book or laptop before the experiment. You may discuss them with your lab partner beforehand. Based on the lab write-up, it is suggested that you make yourself a checklist of the measurements and analysis plots you will need to make during the lab period. In later labs, you will need to plan what tables you need to organize your data and results.

Your laboratory measurements will be performed during class, but you should also make graphs and perform calculations during class to determine whether your measurements are valid.  If you blindly take data without checking it, your grade will suffer.

There will also be five homework assignments (= 15% of lab grade).  A practical examination during the last week of classes will count for 20% of the class grade. Quizzes will count for 5% of the grade. That leaves 60% for the scores on the regular lab reports. There is no final exam in this course. Grades have been typically assigned by a curve for students supervised by a particular instructor.


The lab schedule is given in the table below. It indicates when each lab report and homework assignment is due. Print out the lab writeup and report form for your next lab (if you haven't bought the course pack) and study it before class. All sessions will be held in the lab room BPS 1263.




Aug 27

Computing and Graphing

Reference Guide

Exp. 1 report form

HW 1

Sections 1-3 & 10-12 meet this week.


Sept 1

Computing and Graphing

Sections 4 - 9 meet this week.

Sept 8

Computing and Graphing

HW 1 due at start of class

Exp. 1 report due at end of class


Sep 15

Random Error and Basic Statistics

Exp. 2 report form

HW 2

Exp. 2 report due at end of class


Sept 22

Free Fall

Exp. 3 report form

HW 2 due at start of class


Sep 29

Free Fall

HW 3

Exp. 3 due at end of class


Oct 6 

Simple Pendulum

Exp. 4 report form

HW 3 due at start of class


Oct 13

Simple Pendulum

HW 4

Exp. 4 report due at end of class


Oct 20

Elastic and Inelastic Collisions

Exp. 5 report form

HW 4 due at start of class


Oct 27

Elastic and Inelastic Collisions

HW 5

Exp. 5 report due at end of class


Nov 3

Simple Harmonic Motion

Exp. 6 report form

HW. 5 due

Nov 10 

Simple Harmonic Motion

Exp. 6 report due at end of class


Nov 17

Rotational Motion

Exp. 7 report form

Exp. 7 report due at end of class


Nov 24 

NO CLASS (Thanksgiving)


Dec. 1 


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