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How are your Physics (or other, for that matter) labs?

  • Thread starter Ryker
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  • #1
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Main Question or Discussion Point

What are everyone's thoughts on their undergrad labs (especially) for Physics? Do you like them, find them interesting or exactly the opposite? How are they conducted, what do you do?

I am asking these questions, because in my first semester the lab was the most dreaded part of going to classes. Our experiments consisted of some measurements, sometimes as trivial listening to the TA explain in 5 minutes what this the experiment is about (he was pretty cool, by the way, so there's nothing bad I can say about that part of the lab), then going to the device, pressing the switch for the magnet to turn on, waiting so that the spark tape gets filled with dots, getting the tape, measuring the positions and then writing the report the remaining time. They lasted for 2 hours and 50 minutes, and we had to finish the experiment and the report within that time period. So basically the whole lab was just spent stressing whether we're going to be able to even finish it, weighing whether to even bother with theory, because it was only worth 5 points out of 100, but could take a significant amount of time etc. In a nutshell, I hope labs such as these don't fairly represent how research is being done, because they aren't inspiring one bit. Granted, they may have been a bit unenjoyable due to the ridiculous time constraints and the fact that they were in Newtonian Mechanics, so you didn't really get to see any new stuff, but still... I mean, it's not that I wasn't interested in the whole thing, it's just that with such an approach, the interest just faded away more and more with each subsequent lab.

Anyway, I was just wondering whether other people have experience (dis)similar to mine.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
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I am an Undergrad too and Newtonian mechanics is boring...

It wasn't hard, but there was a lot of graphs and questions that had to be answered. I thought it was pretty fair but it was also boring since it was Newtonian stuff.

You must be a first year student, what are you majoring in ?
 
  • #3
My lab wasn't dissimilar. Our reports were week-long affairs, however. I also found much of the mechanics material enjoyable, but sometimes the concepts just weren't elucidated very well. Personally, I favor recitation for introductory physics, not lab. Intro physics should be more computational and theoretical than experimental and physical. Just my opinion.
 
  • #4
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I agree with the above post, you see classical physics everyday. However, experiments to explain quantum mechanics principles like Young's double slit experiment are needed to "swallow" the knowledge of particle-wave duality.

Moreover, it's not like someone stumbles upon a cat trapped inside a box with a vial of poison and a radioactive material. Then the person starts asking : "Is the cat dead or alive ?" Soon after, he or she concludes that the cat is both dead and alive until the box is opened.
 
  • #5
symbolipoint
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A lab section class meeting needs to be used for doing the practical exercises and the laboratory report needs to be done outside of class time. You record and arrange data during the laboratory period and then you treat that data and study afterwards, at home or in the library. Ryker, do you have other options?
 
  • #6
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im my first year we had to do a 3h lab aMD submit a min of 17 page lab report by next class. so you got about 1 week.. did i learn anything? yes i did, but did i enjoy it NO.. it was time consuming. but in my 2nd year im taking a pure lab course its awesome we get about 3 week to do the lab and submit report.. you get like 3 hrs a week but if you want you can come in on your own time aMD work... but in first year this was not possible b/c of the class size about 200 to 300 students in class so got number of labs going on #[uoft hate it :/]
 
  • #7
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Mine are actually well organized, the chemistry lab on the other hand are a mess.
 
  • #8
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I am an Undergrad too and Newtonian mechanics is boring...
I don't really find Newtonian Mechanics boring, I enjoy reading the textbook and all, but the labs are a different story.
You must be a first year student, what are you majoring in ?
Yeah, I'm doing Physics.
A lab section class meeting needs to be used for doing the practical exercises and the laboratory report needs to be done outside of class time. You record and arrange data during the laboratory period and then you treat that data and study afterwards, at home or in the library. Ryker, do you have other options?
What exactly do you mean by other options? If taking another class, then not really.
im my first year we had to do a 3h lab aMD submit a min of 17 page lab report by next class. so you got about 1 week.. did i learn anything? yes i did, but did i enjoy it NO.. it was time consuming. but in my 2nd year im taking a pure lab course its awesome we get about 3 week to do the lab and submit report.. you get like 3 hrs a week but if you want you can come in on your own time aMD work... but in first year this was not possible b/c of the class size about 200 to 300 students in class so got number of labs going on #[uoft hate it :/]
UofT as in University of Toronto? In any case, our lab reports are of course much shorter than that, but still, you're always in such a rush to finish them. Just today, the Word file crashed when I was saving it - which was half an hour prior to the end of the lab - and it lost most of the data that we had in it, so we had to rewrite (or at least try to do so) everything we lost. Of course we weren't able to finish it all by the time the lab was done, so we couldn't even get to some of the questions asked in the analysis. But because of these time constraints we just had to hand in what we had, and I'm pretty sure the mark for that is going to be low. I guess everyone is in the same position, but it's still ridiculous.
 
  • #9
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My introductory labs were similar to yours (including doing that exact experiment to calculate g). They're more to learn what it means to collect data, analyze (or calculate), and report your findings. It's more about processes and procedures and less about being interesting. Next you'll probably use some air tracks to investigate elastic and inelastic collisions, fun!

My second introductory lab was a little more entertaining when we did experiments to determine the charge of the electron, some radiation spectra, and some others I don't recall now.

You'll get through it. More advanced labs I actually found to be fun and I usually was looking forward to going. I completed a course in optics, eletronics and one titled "advanced laboratory" where there were a number of experiments to choose from including NMR, optical pumping and some things with semi and super conductors.
 
  • #10
Nabeshin
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I'll echo the sentiment of everyone else about introductory labs -- they're boring and often tedious. I certainly thought mine were. Part of that is probably because we're so accustomed to the physics we're learning -- we really believe F=ma, friction is proportional to normal force, V=IR, etc. so we're not surprised when we get the experimental results. Personally I don't think the introductory labs are good for anything. If you go on to experimental work, you'll learn everything in an upper class lab or on the job. If you don't, then you didn't learn what experimental science was like at all, nor did you learn any new physics. Just my two cents.

I will say though that upper level lab courses can be great. I just took one in the astronomy department where we were basically allowed to do whatever we wanted with a 25" observatory. So we'd pick a project, like measuring the rotation curve of x galaxy, or redshifts of some quasar, go out there and get the data, and then write up a "lab report". I use quotes because what we wrote up were scientific papers. We referenced literature and formatted them exactly as a modern astronomer would do -- the only real difference was the caliber of our equipment and the breadth of the study (that is, we analyzed the rotation curve of one galaxy as opposed to 100, as a modern survey would do). This is the kind of lab course that really shows you what working in a lab is about, in my opinion. These should be mandatory, not the pointless introductory ones.
 
  • #11
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I'm in first year engineering and this semester I have three physics classes, and all the labs are different for me. My Statics and Dynamics lab is ****. It's essentially the same process that you described. My Electromagnetic Circuits labs are kind of the same deal, but they are by far better tailored to showing you how apply the theory from the lectures. I learn way more from my lab than I do my lecture. My best labs are my Quantum Relativistic Phenomena labs. They teach you a lot, they are interesting, and they are pretty fun to do.
 

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