Remote Labs for PHYS 131

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This is the page for remote labs in Autumn 2021. If you are are looking for in-person labs, head here.

Guidance for writing your summary and conclusions

After your second lab period, you will need to write up your summary and your conclusions. This should be a separate document, and it should be done individually (though you may talk your group members or ask questions). Include any data tables, plots, etc. from the your lab notebook as necessary in order to show how your data support your conclusions.

The summary is just a retelling of the facts. What were the important things you did? How did you make measurements? What changed as you worked through the project? What are the take-away results?

The conclusion is your interpretation and discussion of your data. What do your data tell you? How do you data match the model (or models) you were comparing against, or to your expectations in general? (Sometimes this means using the $t^{\prime}$ test, but other times it means making qualitative comparisons.) Were you able to estimate uncertainties well, or do you see room to make changes or improvements in the technique? Do your results lead to new questions? Can you think of other ways to extend or improve the experiment?

Each of these above sections does not need to be long; one or two paragraphs for the summary and another one or two paragraphs of conclusion should be sufficient. What is important, however, is that your writing should be complete and meaningful. Address both the qualitative and quantitative aspects of the experiment, and make sure you cover all the “take-away” topics in enough depth.

Don't include throw-away statements like “Looks good” or “Agrees pretty well.” Instead, try to be precise, state your facts clearly and honestly, and don't overreach or stretch your conclusions beyond what the data tell you.


Students who are unable to be on-campus during Autumn Quarter 2021 will participate in a separate track of remote labs. Your first (virtual) lab meeting will occur during Week 3, but you have an important preparatory assignment to complete in Week 2.

Full details on how the course will run are below, but in short the format is as follows:

  • Students will work in groups of 4-6 students on projects lasting 2-weeks.
  • Each week, students will work on part of the lab individually, then come together for a 50 minute Zoom meeting with the rest of the group and the TA to discuss. 
    • Students should come to the meeting prepared (with all individual tasks complete) and ready to talk about results and questions. Students will be graded on participation during the meeting.
    • Students will submit a copy of their lab notebook (showing work in progress) to the TA prior to the meeting. This notebook will be graded on completeness.
    • Students may (and in fact are encouraged to) talk to their lab partners outside this 50 minute meeting, as needed.
  • At the end of a 2-week project, each student will submit a short summary and conclusion (1-2 pages). This is due 48 hours before the next lab, and the TA will give the report a quality grade.

Our goal with this lab sequence is for you to gain practice 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.

Lab meeting schedule

Your first virtual lab meeting will occur during Week 3. You should receive information about your group and TA assignment during Week 2.

In the meantime, you have an important preparatory assignment (Introduction to Experimental Physics) to complete on your own before the end of Week 2. When you are finished, upload your assignment to Canvas by Friday, October 8 at 5:30 pm CDT to receive credit.

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

Week Days Lab
1 Sept 27 - Oct 1 NO LAB
2 Oct 4-Oct 8 Introduction to Experimental Physics (No Virtual Meeting)
3 Oct 11-Oct 15 Paper Drop (Part 1)
4 Oct 18-Oct 22 Paper Drop (Part 2)
5 Oct 25-Oct 29 Pendulum (Part 1)
6 Nov 1-Nov 5 Pendulum (Part 2)
7 Nov 8-Nov 12 TBD
8 Nov 15-Nov 19 TBD
- Nov 22-Nov 26 NO LAB / Thanksgiving break
9 Nov 29-Dec 3 NO LAB

Lab group assignment

All students who will be taking remote labs this quarter will need to be assigned by-hand into specific lab groups.

  • If you registered for the remote-only section of PHYS 131 (Section 4, Savan Kharel), the Department will assign you a 50-minute group meeting within the 3-hour lab block assigned to you by the Registrar. You will be contacted during Week 1 to confirm your group meeting time.
  • If you are a student in any other section of PHYS 121, PHYS 131, PHYS 141, or PHSC 116 who is taking remote labs instead of in-person labs because you are not on campus, you will need to email Tiffany Kurns ( to be placed into a lab group.

It is essential that you make any changes to your lab section by Friday of Week 2. Contact Tiffany Kurns ( with all lab section scheduling requests.

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:

  • 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.

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

* 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.)

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"

  • Most labs this quarter will two-session “projects”. (The Week 2 individual introduction assignment is an exception and lasts only one week.)
    • Each project will have a first part where you work on tasks individually, followed by a second part where you work on tasks as a group. The format is as follows:
      • Work on your individual task(s).
      • Meet (virtually on Zoom) with your group and TA to discuss results and to plan for the group task(s).
      • Work on the group task(s).
      • Meet (virtually on Zoom) with your group and TA to discuss results.
  • As you work on a lab, you will record your work in an electronic lab notebook. This notebook will be useful in discussions 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 to your TA before each meeting to demonstrate that you completed the required work on time. You will get credit for completeness only; you will not be graded on data, conclusions, notes, or anything else related to “correctness”.
    • No late notebooks will be accepted!
  • At the end of an experiment or project, you will turn in a short report (1-2 pages) that includes a summary of the experiment (only the most important information) and your final conclusions. There are no formal sections or special formatting requirements, so don't let the name “report” scare you; you're just writing a few paragraphs and putting your name at the top. 
    • This document will be graded on quality and correctness. (Not on the correctness of your results, but on the correctness of your reasoning and conclusions.)
    • Each lab will try to suggest 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 both participation and the quality of your submitted report.


  • You will be assigned to a lab group of 4-6 students with a dedicated TA who will serve as your grader.
  • You may begin working on the individual portion of the lab as soon as it is posted online.
    • Record your results and comments in your lab notebook as you work. (You lab notebook is informal. You do not need to be perfect.)
    • You are welcome to ask questions to your TA or your other group members and to get help if needed.
    • A copy of your lab notebook is due to your TA before each meeting begins. Late lab notebooks will NOT be accepted.
  • You will meet with your TA and your lab group during your assigned time slot.
    • At this meeting, each student will discuss their results, and the TA will answer questions and lead a discussion about big picture ideas. The TA will help the group plan work for the second part of the lab, and discuss group member roles.
  • This process then repeats: work on the group tasks, submit an updated lab notebook to your TA, and meet again with the group. 
  • Your lab report (along with final conclusions) will be due 48 hours before your next meeting.

If you miss a scheduled meeting with your group and TA, you must contact the instructor for the course immediately. The group meetings are an essential part of the lab experience!


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 12 points for a full two-session project. 

Complete (2 points) Needs improvement (1 point) Not acceptable (0 points)
Participation: Lab Notebook (Session 1) Submits a lab notebook prior to the meeting that shows reasonably complete notes and data for all the tasks assigned for that session. Submits a partial lab notebook prior to the meeting, 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 begun.
Participation: Lab Notebook (Session 2) Same criteria as above. Same criteria as above. Same criteria as above.
Participation: Meeting (Session 1) Comes to the meeting fully prepared, on time, and ready to discuss results. Answers TA and group questions and participates in a meaningful way during the discussion. Participates only reluctantly, or arrives late to the meeting. Is substantially unprepared or comes with only a partial set of data and/or notes. Is unable to answer questions. Misses most or all the meeting, or is “not present” (i.e. doing something else) during the meeting. Does not provide data at meeting or is otherwise unable to discuss work. Is disruptive or disrespectful to the group.
Participation: Meeting (Session 2) Same criteria as above. Same criteria as above. Same criteria as above.
Report: Summary Adequately describes the experimental procedure (if appropriate), and gives reasons for decisions made regarding procedure.  Clearly presents important data in tables and graphs, and appropriately labels and describes these data (including units and use of appropriate significant figures). Includes correct units and appropriate number of significant figures on all calculated values. 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 Compares data to models or predictions where appropriate and include uncertainties in that discussion (if applicable). Makes conclusions that are complete, and clearly supported by the data.  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”.