Labs for PHYS 141/142/143


Your first in-person meeting will occur during Week 3

  • There will be 6 in-person lab sessions (Weeks 3-8). Each session will be treated as an independent experiment, and all sessions carry equal weight.
  • Each lab session will be 2 hours and 50 minutes and students are expected to attend for the full time.
  • Students will work in groups of 3 and will collaborate on a digital group lab notebook. This notebook will be due at the end of each session. Students are graded individually on participation during the session and as a group on the completeness of the lab notebook.
  • After the conclusion of each lab, each student will submit an individual short Post-Lab Assignment in which you will summarize your groups work, answer specific questions, and draw conclusions about the experiment you just finished. This is due 48 hours after the lab has ended, and the TA will give the report a quality grade.

Our goal with this lab sequence is for you to gain experience doing experimental physics. While you will see many of the phenomena discussed in lecture show up in these labs, the point is not just to repeat that content but to use that content to explore and learn the scientific process. Put succinctly, the goal is to understand how we know, not what we know.

Links to experiments will go live at the start of the quarter.

Lab schedule (Autumn Quarter)

Your first in-person lab meeting will occur during Week 3. You should receive information about your lab room and TA assignment during Week 2.

In the meantime, you have an important preparatory assignment (Introduction to Experimental Physics) to complete before the end of Week 2. When you are finished, upload your assignment to Canvas by Friday, October 6 at 5:30 pm CDT to receive credit.

Links to experiments will go live at the start of the quarter.

Week Days PHYS 141 Experiment
1 Sep 26 - Sep 29 NO LAB
2 Oct 2 - Oct 6 Introduction to Experimental Physics (No In-Person Meeting)
3 Oct 9 - Oct 13 Precision Measurements and Model Testing (Part 1)
4 Oct 16 - Oct 20 Precision Measurements and Model Testing (Part 2)
5 Oct 23 - Oct 27 Cratering (Part 1)
6 Oct 23 - Oct 27 Cratering (Part 2)
7 Nov 6 - Nov 10 Energy Conservation in Real Systems
8 Nov 13 - Nov 17 Moments of Inertia
- Nov 20 - Nov 24 NO LAB / Thanksgiving break
9 Nov 27 - Dec 1 Make Up Lab

Lab schedule (Winter Quarter)

Links to experiments will go live at the start of the quarter.

Week Days PHYS 142 Experiment
1 Jan 3 - Jan 5 NO LAB
2 Jan 8 - Jan 12 NO LAB
3 Jan 15 - Jan 19 Coulomb's Law I
4 Jan 22 - Jan 26 Coulomb's Law II
5 Jan 29 - Feb 2 Electrical Measurements
6 Feb 5 - Feb 9 Oscilloscopes and AC measurements, Capacitance
7 Feb 12 - Feb 16 Induction and Faraday's Law
8 Feb 19 - Feb 23 e/m of the electron
9 Feb 26 - Mar 2 NO LAB

Lab schedule (Spring Quarter)

Week Days PHYS 143 Experiment
1 Mar 19 - Mar 23 NO LAB
2 Mar 26 - Mar 30 NO LAB
3 Apr 2 - Apr 6 Wave Motion & Sound
4 Apr 9 - Apr 13 Interference
5 Apr 16 - Apr 20 Diffraction
6 Apr 23 - Apr 27 Geometrical Optics
7 Apr 30 - May 4 Polarization
8 May 7 - May 11 Thin Film Interference
9 May 14 - May 18 NO LAB
Out-of-lab Make-up Assignment Make-Up Lab: Waves

Lab group assignment

When you registered for the course, you were placed into a 2 hour and 50 minute lab section by the Registrar.

  • The section assigned by the Registrar is the lab section you should attend and no further action is required.
  • If this lab section no longer works with your schedule, you will need to contact Tiffany Kurns ( to switch into a different lab section.
  • All PHYS 142 labs take place in KPTC 216.

It is essential that you are in an appropriate lab section by Friday of Week 2. Contact Tiffany Kurns ( with all lab section scheduling requests.

What to do if you are sick or miss lab

If you miss a lab (due to sickness or emergency), please contact both your lab TA and Tiffany Kurns ( as soon as possible. Tiffany will work with you to find a different lab section to attend later in the week (if one is available and you are able). If you are unable to attend an alternate section during the same week as your absence, you will need to do the remote make-up lab.

If you miss more than one lab during the quarter, you must speak with your lecture professor to discuss options.

Lab format


For the introductory physics laboratories here at the University of Chicago, we have adopted a set of learning objectives. By the end of this course, you should be able to do the following:

  • design an experiment to investigate a physical phenomena;
  • collect data and revise an experimental procedure iteratively and reflectively;
  • evaluate the process and outcomes of an experiment quantitatively and qualitatively;
  • extend the scope of an investigation whether or not results come out as expected;
  • communicate the process and outcomes of an experiment; and
  • conduct an experiment collaboratively and ethically.

* These goals were first outlined by the Physics Education Research Lab at Cornell University for labs at all levels, but especially for introductory labs. You can read more about the philosophy behind these learning goals  here.)

Put succinctly, the goal is to understand how we know, not what we know.*

Each lab you work on this year will relate back to one or more of these course objectives and will help you develop and apply the tools of experimental physics. The aim is to teach critical thinking through experimentation, and for you to see how the concepts of lecture are applied (and limited by) specific physical situations.

Lab "projects"

  • Each session lasts 2 hours and 50 minutes. You are expected to arrive on-time and stay for the entire period, part of your participation grade is based on this.
    • Your lab section was assigned by the Registrar when you scheduled. If that time no longer works for you, you must contact Tiffany Kurns ( before the end of Week 2 to be rescheduled into an appropriate section.
  • In lab, you will work in groups of three students.
    • Your group will record observations, data, photos, and calculations in an electronic lab notebook. This notebook will be useful in discussions with your TA and for drawing conclusions at the end of project, but it is a working document that is not expected to be perfect, polished or even correct.
    • You will submit a copy of this notebook via Canvas before the end of the lab period. Your TA will grade the notebook for completeness only; you will not be graded on the quality of your data, conclusions, notes, or anything else related to “correctness”.
  • Once the experiment is over, you will turn in a short individual summary.
    • In this summary you will present your conclusions and show how they are supported by your data.
    • This assignment will be graded on quality and correctness. (Not on the correctness of your results/answers, but on the correctness of your reasoning and conclusions.)
    • Each lab will outline what you should include, and you should talk to your TA if you have questions (especially in the first few labs as you are just getting started). 
  • Points will be assigned for different parts of the project based on participation, your group notebook, and the quality of your submitted post-lab assignment.


The rubric for the every project this quarter is identical and is shown below. Your grade is based both on participation (e.g. your completed lab notebook and participation in group meetings), and on the quality of your final report (e.g. your summary and your conclusions). The total maximum score is 8 points for a one-week project. 

Complete (2 points) Needs improvement (1 point) Not acceptable (0 points)
Lab Notebook (Group) Submits a lab notebook at the end of the meeting that shows reasonably complete notes and data for all the tasks assigned for that session. Experimental technique is described completely and clearly. Diagrams, photos, equations etc. are used where appropriate. Submits a partial lab notebook with important details missing, or submits a notebook that lacks care and is rushed. Does not submit a lab notebook, submits a lab notebook that is missing significant sections, or submits a lab notebook after the meeting has ended.
Participation (Individual) Comes to the lab on-time and prepared, and stays until the group is completely finished. Is an active participant in the experiment, but also shares responsibilities and makes sure that all partners get a chance to contribute as well. Answers TA and group questions, and participates in a meaningful way during discussions. Either arrives late or leaves early, or otherwise comes to lab unprepared. Is either reluctant to participate in the experiment or overly dominant in a way that makes it difficult for partners to participate. Is unable to answer TA and group questions, or does not participate in discussions. Misses most or all the session, or is “not present” (i.e. doing something else) during the period. Is disruptive or disrespectful to the group or to partners, or has an attitude that makes it difficult for the class or group to make progress.
Report: Communication (Individual) Data are presented clearly and with appropriate units, significant figures and uncertainties. Tables, graphs and screenshots are used to present the data in the clearest possible manner. Omits significant elements of the experimental procedure, is unclear, or gives inadequate justification for choices made during the experiment. Does not present data appropriately, does not include units on values, or does not keep appropriate significant figures. Is unclear or makes major mistakes in reporting or summarizing work. Does not present a meaningful description of experimental procedure. Presents no data or plots, or presents data in a confusing manner. Provides incorrect units or makes fundamental flaws in calculations that render the answer meaningless.
Report: Conclusions (Individual) Makes conclusions that are complete, and clearly supported by the data. Results are compared quantitatively and degree of agreement or disagreement are correctly ascertained. Makes conclusions which are mostly correct, but which miss minor points. Does not use data as effectively as possible to support conclusions. Makes conclusions that are directly contradicted by the data, overstates conclusions beyond what the data support, or is unclear in how conclusions are derived. Uses unsupported speculation to explain discrepancies in their data, or uses phrases like “human error”, or “if we had better equipment”.