Laboratory Report Content

For each laboratory experiment, you will do Pre-lab problems, a laboratory writeup of your results and/or a 5-10 minute oral presentation of your results.

Pre-lab questions: Most of the laboratory experiments include pre-lab problems. You should answer these problems in your lab notebook. The pre-lab is intended to help you think about how the experiment might work, and what type of analysis you might need to do to understand your data. The answers to these questions are due by 5PM on the day following whenever you start an experiment. Turn them in by copying (xerox, scan, etc.) the pages of your lab notebook. Try to have the pre-lab problems finished before you start the experiment, but in any case use that first day of the experiment to putter about with the equipment and the pre-lab to understand why the pre-lab answers might be important. In addition to the pre-lab answers, you should include the answers to the following three questions:

1) What do I hope to learn by doing this lab

2) What equipment or techniques do I expect to know more about at the end of the lab

3) Where do I expect to have the most challenging time in doing the experiment.


Lab Write-ups: The experiments require a written lab report that presents a complete description of the experiment, a detailed analysis of the errors involved, and a thorough discussion of what conclusions can be drawn from the work. Lab reports are due by Wednesday 5 p.m. the week after each experiment is finished. These will be significant writing projects (at least several pages each), and the quality of the writing will be an important part of the grade. The effort put in to each report should be in proportion to the number of weeks spent on an experiment. It is preferable that reports be typed (except perhaps for some equations). If there are substantial data tables you should provide photocopies from your lab book, rather than spend time copying lots of numbers. In general, though, large numerical data sets are better shown in graphical form. If there were pre-lab questions for the lab, you should do the questions before the lab, but include your answers in your report. The written lab report for the final project will be similar in style to a regular lab report, but will be expected to have a higher level of polish.

An appropriate format for a report might be:

I. Introduction ‑ Describe the purpose of the experiment, why and how it is being conducted. Possibly, some brief background material. Do not quote extensively from the lab manual.

II. Description of Experiment ‑ Sketch of apparatus with important dimensions, circuit diagrams, etc. as necessary for description.

III. Data ‑ Tabulations, graphs, measurements.

IV. Calculations ‑ Data analysis and calculation of experimental uncertainties.

V. Discussion of Results and Conclusions ‑ What quantities have been measured? What are the implications for your results for testing physics principles or laws? How do your measurements compare with known values? How could the experiment be improved?

VI. References ‑ Where did you get inspiration? Where did important equations or physical insight come from. This section tells us where you got your information.

Again, your instructor will be concerned with the quality of the writing. If it is poor, the report may be returned to you un-graded with suggestions as to how you can improve the writing. You will then have to rewrite the report.

You are encouraged to work with your partner in carrying out and analyzing the experiment, but the reports should be done independently, and each partner is expected to work through and understand all aspects of the experiment. You should trade off roles. For example, in one part of the experiment partner A will adjust the knobs and read off the data while B records and analyzes it. Then for the second part, A and B will trade places.

Oral Presentation: The oral reports should contain the same type of information as a regular lab report, and be in the style of a physics conference presentation. Parts of the presentation must be delivered by each lab partner. Visual aids such as overhead slides or computerized presentations are encouraged. Show-and-tell demonstrations are only appropriate under narrow circumstances, such as demonstration of a qualitative effect that can't be shown with a presentation of data. Your instructors will take 5 minutes at the end of the presentation to ask you questions about your work.

Here is a sample presentation for the projecting microscope in PDF format, and PowerPoint (ppt and pptx)