Elements of a Good Experiment
Equipment review and introductions may include
Writing a Paper
There is no formal text for this course, rather it is a compilation of notes, handouts, and web resource materials. It is absolutely vital that you take comprehensive notes during the class. This semester is your opportunity to develop your physical intuition in the context of investigating a problem. You will get to formally state the problem, design and construct the investigation, analyze the data, draw appropriate conclusions and communicate the results. In all respects a more polished performance is required of you in this class than you have had to demonstrate in the past. This course represents a transition for you, from student to professional. You need to develop a professional sense of responsibility for the work you produce, and for the process of producing it. Much of the evaluation of your work (by me) is from a professional perspective. Think of yourselves as doing work for pay, and I am the boss. Don't turn in a student product, turn in a professional one.
Please communicate your questions, comments, and problems to me. I am pleased to see you any time you can drop in. Please leave me a note if you can't find me.
It is your responsibility to learn—to do the work using available resources, taking responsibility for finding the knowledge and equipment you need. You get to work in groups and alone. Take this opportunity to show to everyone that you can handle the responsibility. Historically, the biggest problem encountered by students in this course is poor time management. You are given some freedom to schedule your assault on the problem—don't abuse this freedom.
Be courteous to others. We have limited space and equipment, so don't expect to set up an experiment and have sole use of the equipment and space for more than a couple of days. You may need to coordinate with your classmates for access to some equipment. There may be times when courtesy should be extended with regard to opening the door and turning on lights. You are expected to put equipment away and otherwise keep the experiment areas clean and tidy.
Preparation for the Course
Modern Physics (phys230) is a prerequisite for this course. You will need to maintain a working knowledge of the physics and mathematics at the level of physics 111/112/230. Laboratory experiences in physics 111/112 are a valuable knowledge and experience base for this course. Review your laboratory experience. Look over old reports to identify skills you need. Of course by now you should have completed English 110. If you haven't, then don't take this course. Finish English first.
I also assume that you have computer skills, including email, using the web, word processing, Mathematica, spread sheets, and other generic, scientific computer tools. We will enhance your skills with all of these.
We will have formal classroom time, especially early in the semester. It is important that you apply your attention to these presentations as they will be vital to your experiments. Students will be required to pick a professional track—physics, astronomy, or meteorology. While everyone does the same first experiment, there are computer, equipment and write-up differences between the professions.
There will be two phases to the course.
I may allow you to work in groups of up to three. In no case will you work with any specific individual on more than two of your experiments. I reserve the right to restrict your choice of partners, and I may even encourage or require you to work alone.
Absences and Tardiness
On the occasions we have formal classroom time you are responsible for the material presented. Contact a classmate for the notes.
Preparing to do an Experiment
There are several steps to take before you actually do an experiment.
You will maintain a notebook of your lab experience. It is an up to date diary of your lab work. It should contain dates, names, times, equipment lists, diagrams, raw data, musings, ideas, sketches, casual observations... One good model is to write only on the right hand page, and use the left hand page to insert graphs and tables or other computer-generated information. They may be taped or glued in place. In very formal cases one would sign and date across the boundary of such inserted items. The lab notebook is the basis for your lab report, which should contain nothing that isn't in the notebook, at least rudimentarily. It should be decipherable by your colleagues, but is intended to be a working document, not a finished product. I will examine these notebooks from time to time without notice.
Should any of you prefer to do some online, electronic sort of lab notebook, I am quite willing to let you do so. This is the 21st century, and many research organizations do it electronically. I must have access though.
Here are some guidelines:
The written products in this class are intended to help you learn to do professional, journal style articles. Communications to the professional community via journals are very different from other written products, for example, a "lab report" in most other lab classes has a very different audience and intention than the articles you write in this class. Similarly for a final grant report or final project report to a funding agency. Each has its purpose and audience, and are consequently very different from one another. It is vital that you understand the purpose, audience, format, and editorial standards for any written product.
Each student will produce and submit their own report, even though you may do the experiment as a group. While you may work closely together on the experiment, each student writes up their own report, in the appropriate format (i.e., using the LaTeX template suitable to their profession), and each student should be completely competent in the details of data manipulation and analysis. Reports are expected to meet the highest editorial and scientific standards. Pretend it is being submitted to a refereed journal for publication and that your job is on the line. The details of your format are dictated by those used in a journal you choose which is consistent with your career goals. The term "lab report" is somewhat of a misnomer, as you turn in a lab notebook, and your formal write-up is more of a journal submission format.
These formal reports are the focal point of your work. The experiment isn't worth doing unless its results are communicated to others. A generic, everything is OK, no significant errors, good layout, adequately conducted, reasonable conclusion lab will get you "B". Subtlety, insight, and cleverness can get you more. Lab reports are written up individually, even though experiments may be conducted as a group. It is inappropriate (i.e., it is considered academic dishonesty) to pass lab reports down to students in future classes, or to get them from previous classes.
The editorial guidelines used by the American Physical Society or American Astronomical Society will generally be followed unless you convince me that you should follow the guidelines of another organization. If your career goals and academic path are consistent with your case it will likely be fine with me. See example papers in journals such as Physical Review, or check out their online style guide, or the Astrophysics style guide
Reports will ordinarily contain
The Checklist— Pitfalls, Tips, and Hints...
In addition to the guidelines above, the following will be considered when assigning a grade to your report.
You will make oral presentations in several ways. On occasion you will be asked to give a 1-2 minute status report on your current experiment. This will likely be without notice. Finally, you will give an eight minute formal presentation, probably, but not necessarily, on your third experiment.
The formal presentation will be given during a final exam period for our class. The talks follow a standard presentation format used at scientific meetings. The talks will be 8 minutes long (+/- 1 min), and use suitable, professional-quality visual aids. For a really good primer, see the MIT Sample. Another good set of tips for scientific talks.
The above due dates are subject to change a little. Late assignments may be accepted (at my whim), but will ordinarily be penalized, more so each day they are late.
The accumulation of points is as follows. We do three experiments. For experiments one and two you submit an original lab report, then we do some editing, and you submit a revised version. The original and its revision are each graded, and carry the same weight. The third experiment is a one-shot effort—no revision. In the overall grading scheme the first experiment carries a weight of 2, the second a weight of 4, and the third a weight of 6.
|Quizzes and proficiency exercises||10%|
|Total||100% of course grade|