Course Information


R.N. (Bob) Rogers, Office: Thornton Hall 305; Phone 338-2944; e-mail: Office hours: Tuesday 2-3, Wednesday 11-12

Meeting Time and Place:

Th 231, Thursdays 2:00 - 5:00 PM.


Required: A text on experimental errors and error analysis . The one I suggest and which is in the bookstore is that which has been optional for the 220-240 sequence, namely, An Introduction to Error Analysis by John Taylor. The other possibility is Phillip Bevington Data Reduction and Error Analysis (McGraw Hill) which we use in P 490 (Project Lab). Of the two, Taylor is the easier to read and to teach yourself from. Bevington is more advanced, much more complete, and the one you will want to have if you go in, either to grad school or to a technical position involving data reduction. Both are very good, however.


This laboratory accompanies Modern Physics I, and Physics 320 is the (pre- or) co-requisite for this course.

Required Materials for First Class

You must always have your laboratory notebook (see below for required type of notebook) with you in laboratory. I won't let you work in laboratory without your laboratory book. You need to have your notebook for the first laboratory and you should bring a scientific calculator to all classes. You should also have a formatted DOS 3 1/2" disk in order to copy data from the laboratory computer, if you need to do so.


Grades will be based upon 1) attendance, 2) Final Exam 3) quiz grades and 4)your lab book and the thoughtfulness, initiative, and quality of your work in the laboratory itself. If you attend all the labs, take the quizzes and final, and turn in a notebook recording your participation, data, and results, you will get at least a C. Grades of B and above will depend primarily your test grades and on the quality of your laboratory book and optional writeup, as well as for your performance as a thoughtful experimentalist in the laboratory.

Quizzes are to ensure that you come to laboratory prepared, either to begin a new experiment or to complete the pervious laboratory. There will generally amount to one question per week.

I am NOT going to grade the notebook on a weekly basis; I will look them over during labs on a spot check basis, and I will want them turned in at the end of the semester.. But it should not be neglected, as it will be your one open source for the final. You should record both the details of each lab including set up and data you take in the laboratory, AND any further information about the lab or the physics of the lab you wish to record and have available for the final. Some points you should have in mind in keeping a notebook are 1) clarity, 2) thoughtful estimation and treatment of errors, 3) record of observations (and not only of data). Your presentation should show care and thoughtfulness, not upon getting done You will probably want to prepare in the notebook for each lab.

You may insert materials you prepare outside of laboratory (e.g., spreadsheets), by careful use of rubber cement.


The objective of the lab is to advance your education regarding the approach and techniques (and some of the difficulties and frustrations!) of the physics laboratory as well as to complement your introduction to the concepts of modern physics as represented by the experiments in quantum physics you will perform here. (Note, however, that it is increasingly questionable as to whether the physics discovered 75 to 100 years ago should be given the title of modern physics. In no way does this diminish the importance of these experiments to your own development. These experiments do represent much of the core concepts and discoveries on which the developments of this century were based.) A major part of that goal is to develop your observational and experimental skills as a physicist. Paramount to that goal is the development of good laboratory notebook skills including the careful and complete recording of observations and the treatment of experimental data and uncertainty. This cannot be over-emphasized! Always keep in mind that the purpose of any lab book is to record your activities and conclusions in order to enable you to reconstruct what you did (and how) at some time after the actual performance.

The basis for this laboratory will be six classic experiments which were basic to the paradigm change that led directly from the classical world to world of physics as we know it today: (1) the Spectrometer and the Balmer spectrum of hydrogen, (2) the Michelson interferometer and ether drift, (3) the measurement of e/m, (4) the measurement of h/e, (5) the Frank-Hertz experiment (classical observation of quantized energy levels), and (6) the Millikan oil drop experiment (the measurement of the charge on an electron ).

These are difficult and often frustrating lab exercises. Results sometimes are at considerable variance (that is, may have a discrepancy outside experimental error) from accepted results, either due to errors in calculation or observation, or due to factors associated with the equipment. However, the experience of the better student is usually that careful data analysis will lead to quite satisfying results where initially, the results may have appeared hopeless.

A. The Lab Book:

I consider the laboratory notebook as probably the most important single aspect of this course. Give it the attention it deserves!

Use a quadrille-ruled bound lab book, e.g., National 43-591 - spiral bound is OK; number the pages (either consecutively, or by date - I use a "serial-number" date and page number format, e.g., 940201.1; but use whatever works best for you); use ink only; cross out neatly (box and a line through for sections - you may want to refer to that which you cross out.) don’t use whiteout - If you need a second book (and that is likely), I prefer that you join the two together to make one super-notebook – at least at the time you turn them in for final evaluation. I use staples and rubber cement.

Be sure you have in mind how you are going to organize your notebook, and that you have prepared the notebook to some extent in advance of the lab.

Log into your notebook (date and time) at beginning of lab session, log out at end. Note your laboratory partner's name, or if none, say so. If you take manual home (rather than turning it in), have instructor initial when you leave! Log-in and out when working at home. When you add to previous work, date the addition, and if you want me to see additions or corrections to earlier work, use a different color to call my attention.

Organization: The Phys 222 laboratory manual traditionally goes into some detail about the laboratory notebook, its organization, and its use. If you have a copy, or can get someone else's, I suggest you look at it. It is quite helpful. In brief, however, keep in mind that you are learning make a useable record of what you have done. You basically want to record what you hope to do, what you observed (data, sources of error, etc.) and what you were able to establish (that is, what conclusions your data justifies. These are the same skills you must develop if you are to ever work as a physicist, so now is the time to form the right habits!

A quick way of checking as to whether your book is adequate is to look at the book as if you were an outside observer, attempting to understand exactly what you did, and to determine whether your results are believable, that is, what weight to place in your results. If that outside observer can't determine what you did and how, and how much s/he can trust your work, you haven't put down the right things in your lab book.

Let me present an alternative characterization. As a pneumonic, I stress the 3-D approach: Description, Data, and Discussion.

    1. Description: includes a brief description of the experiment (with a minimum of one drawing or diagram!) the date, laboratory partner, equipment #’s, the purpose in your words, and any related material you may want to include (theory, etc.). Normally, this will be done before you take any data.
    2. Data: Before you begin to record your data, state in words what you are doing. You should normally plan to record data in a data table, and include your estimate of uncertainty for each part or column of numbers. You should note how you arrived at each uncertainty. Note special conditions or effects observed. When writing up, be sure to include your linear graphical plot of results, with fit.
    3. Discussion: State those things you have established as a result of your work, and state and discuss your uncertainty in the final answer (this is most important!) as well as your discrepancy from accepted results (this is not that important). Note problems and unresolved questions.

Further Detailed Suggestions

    1. Prepare before your get to laboratory! Read over the experiment, draw or copy any appropriate circuitry into your laboratory book, make a brief outline of what you will be doing when you get to laboratory. Copy formulas you will be using. Briefly state what your objective in the laboratory will be, and list the things you expect to do. This is to focus your thoughts on the job at hand, and it also serves to inform me where you are.

      E.g.: Today: the Frank-Hertz experiment - quantization of atomic energy levels. Observe the variation of current through the F-H tube as a function of applied voltage, dips show excitation of atomic states. ... First steps: connect and turn on the oven, and to wire the control board according to the circuit shown below...
    2. Always begin by recording the identification #'s on your equipment (the equipment is not all the same - this may be important, e.g., if I have to check your apparatus for malfunction after the fact!!) and the name of your laboratory partner(s), if you have one..
    3. Resolve to be neat! A laboratory book should be readable and understandable both to yourself in years to come as well as to others (and not just the instructor). Neat diagrams are worth many words. Many of you will be required to keep a laboratory notebook as part of your future employment. It will serve as a journal of your activities, and it will be the basis from which you will write reports of your results. (Individual laboratory notebooks have figured prominently in court testimony involving many millions of dollars - realizing that your notebook could become a public document may be helpful in encouraging a legible style of presentation.). Use the right hand of the book for your write-up and calculations, save the left side for scratch notes AND to give yourself room to go back and add to or correct your work later. (When you add to your write-up later, be sure to date the new entry.) Write what you do as you do it.

      E.g., "Apparatus wired according to the diagram, then turned on the oven and waited 15 minutes for it to warm up. We noted that the current meter was extremely sensitive to position of the cable, so we taped the cable to the table top to prevent their movement. …"
    4. Do calculations as you go, in the book. Show the formula you use (cite where you got it). If you are making repeated calculations, always show a sample calculation so that you or another person (e.g., me!) can check your work for errors, should you have anomalous results.
    5. Estimate the uncertainties associated with each piece of laboratory equipment, and by calculating your estimate of the experimental uncertainty associated with the numbers you measure. THIS IS MOST IMPORTANT! You should make sure those uncertainties are realistic by direct observation and by estimating how accurately you think you will be able to make the measurement. Often, the uncertainty is determined by the scale divisions of the meter you are reading; however, you should check to see the differences in readings when you change scale.
      Be careful to record or note, possibly for further investigation, all factors that you think might have an effect, and try to reasonably determine their relative magnitude. You should arrive at a definite and realistic value for the most likely major contributor to the overall error of your measurements. And in general, there will be a single source of uncertainty that dominates the uncertainty of the result. You need to identify it. I don’t want to see a "laundry list" of possible contributors to error, but rather a careful consideration (i.e., calculation as to estimated size) of those that are the most significant in contribution to your uncertainty. This is one of the most important (and most difficult) things to be accomplished in this laboratory.
    6. THINK AND WRITE as you go. If you can explain something that is not noted in the write-up, you probably will want to write down what you figured out. As noted above, the laboratory notebook should be your laboratory journal. You should be spending a significant fraction of your time in laboratory just writing in the notebook.
    7. In general, the phenomena you will be validating are best shown by a linear plot and fit using least squares fitting (linear regression). When you understand what this is about, you can then make such plots rather quickly using a spreadsheet program on a personal computer. When you do this outside of class, you will want to neatly rubber cement in the printout of your results to your notebook. HOWEVER, you should make rough plots as you go. One develops a far better feeling for data when the results are plotted as they are collected. In several of the exercises this semester, if you do not plot as you go, you will waste a great deal of time in taking unnecessary data where nothing interesting is happening in the measurements.
    8. Be sure to include in the summary and conclusions section, your final results and associated error, as well as a comparison with the accepted value. Generally, you can say they were in agreement with the accepted value if the deviation of your answer from the accepted values falls within the range of your uncertainty.
    9. Return everything to its place at end of laboratory.

C. Tentative Schedule of Experiments - Fall, 2000:

I. Spectral Lines, Balmer Series Sept 7, 14

II. Michelson-Morley Sept 21, 28

III. e/m of electron, Oct 6 Oct 13

IV. Photoelectric effect, measurement of Planck’s Constant Oct 20, 27, Nov 2

V. Frank–Hertz Nov 9, 16

VI. Charge of electron (Millikan) Nov 30 - Dec 7, 14

VII. Final exam, Party, Lab books, (formal report on -?), 1:30pm , Thursday, Dec 21