Physics Labs

One of the most aggravating parts of being a high school physics student in the long and arduous task of doing a lab write up. You’ve performed your experiment, collected your data, and probably have a pretty good idea of what it all means. However to often are students disappointed to see that they have missed a great deal of things in their write-ups, and are thus docked marks needlessly.

The first part of any physics lab is the design. This is basically where you say what you’re going to do. It is prudent to prepare this part before actually doing your experiment, so you have a step by step guide for what to physically do. Here, make sure that you identify all variables (manipulated, responding and controlled) and label them as such. This gives the marker the idea that you have no doubts about what you’re doing, and that you’re not just trying to fluke your way to a good grade.

You must also make a prediction or hypothesis. Whether this is a commonly accepted value of a constant you are trying to determine (such as the acceleration due to gravity), or something totally new, you must have a general ballpark idea of where you expect to go. It is not necessary to be right, or even close to your eventual result, but you must include your thought process that led you to your educated guess.

It is also imperative to include a list of materials, so that others could repeat your experiment if they wished to test your results.

The second part of the physics lab is Data collection and Processing. Numerical data should be prepared in a table, and the best method is to use a computer program such as Apple’s Pages to do this is a short time with nice looking results. In the column headers, you must remember to indicate both the units of measurement of your data as well as any inherent uncertainties of your measuring tools. Remember that it is better to have too much data than too little, and that excluding specific data to alter your results is not only unethical, but it will net you a very poor mark from your teacher if they find out.

When processing your data, you will have to perform algebraic equations, create graphs, determine slopes, calculating averages, and many other operations. Ensure that units are used throughout all calculations, and that you show sample calculations for every step. If you can install and lear LaTex, it will make your equations look much more professional in a write up.

The final part of a lab is the conclusion and evaluation. This is where many students falter, as they do not fulfill the obligations of the lab. Here, you must state the conclusion that your data led you to. You must also analyze your errors, of which there are 2 types. Random error is uncontrollable, and is created because of the uncertainty of your equipment. To calculate this, make your uncertainties into a percentage, and then sum them. Systematic error is error that is a result of poorly calibrated equipment that shows up in all calculations.

You must also suggest how to improve your lab. The only acceptable answer when addressing random error is to perform more trials. Never suggest more high-tech equipment, as that will be frowned upon. In order to account for systematic error, you must isolate what caused it, and then suggest how it cold be remedied.

This has been a basic guide to ensuring that you don’t loose marks needlessly on your next physics lab, but there is always more to learn, so ask your science teacher as to what other specifications they would like, and you’ll always be pleased with your mark.