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Lab Reports

  1. Jul 25, 2011 #1
    I've seen some threads on PF discussing the labs in physics, engineering, and chem, and something just seems.. off. People are talking about how their lab reports are ten or twenty pages long, handwritten, and/or take many many hours. This doesn't seem to jive with my own lab experience.

    I took my first year physics and chem at a community college. The physics labs consisted of very easy pre-lab questions which we answered by looking through the lab manual for that particular lab. Then the labs themselves were largely jotting down numbers and observations. After the lab usually came some calculations, which were often difficult and required some level of independent thought. Then came the post-lab questions in which we responded in essay format to about five or six questions (usually -- sometimes more, sometimes less). These responses were never more than one or two paragraphs. The chem labs consisted of data, calculations, and occasionally a short-answer which was always much easier than the physics labs. All told, the prelabs were about one page, the calculations/data usually about two, maybe three, and the post-lab an additional page. Nothing like those ten or twenty page handwritten reports!

    My questions are: Am I going to be ill-prepared in my aerospace engineering classes for those mammoth lab reports that everyone talks about? What exactly did these lab reports consist of? What can I do now that I'm transferring to a very large and presumably rigorous university that will require me to take several classes with labs?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 25, 2011 #2
    I'm an EE and I've never done an ME lab but outside of my area I've done labs in Modern Physics and I can say I've never seen a 10-20 page lab report, 4-5ish seems to be the average though I've gone as high as 10 but only because I included many pictures in a few reports. Usually lab reports include:

    abstract
    introduction
    discussion of theory
    experimental procedure
    data tables
    pictures
    discussion of results
    conclusion
    references

    This can take up quite a bit of space, but for the most part none of the above should be bigger than 2 paragraphs unless you go really in deph (and sometimes you do depending on the experiment and the necessary analysis,error calculations, etc). Labs are usually much easier than lecture for me but can take up just as much time becasue making the lab reports look good can be time consuming. Past chem I never had to do prelabs but you might have to get used to working a little more on stuff you didn't think was so important before.
     
  4. Jul 25, 2011 #3
    My introductory chemistry labs were like yours. Introductory physics labs were similar, but with a little more writing. Outside of those I was writing at least 5-10 pages (which includes data) for my advanced physics labs.

    I don't think it is as difficult as it sounds though. Each report will have sections like: Introduction/motivation, discussion/results, conclusion. Introduction will have a description of the problem (I need to find g... and hopefully I find it to be ~9.8 m/s^2 !) plus some history. Discussion/results will show your data, explain your data, and explain possible sources for error for your data. Conclusion, of course, is the wrap up that summarizes it all.

    It can be tough to write a bunch for 1, 3 hour lab. Once you have labs that start collecting data for weeks it becomes easier.


    *** I like clope's section outline. Obviously I've been away from real science for too long :)
     
  5. Jul 26, 2011 #4
    The highest I went in physics was sophmore level courses (CM, EM, QM). In freshman year the lab reports were usually less than ten page, about 7 or so pages long. For the sophmore courses they never said how long your reports were meant to be, but if you wanted a decent mark you virtually needed more than 20 pages. We would often hand in 30 page reports. And all these were typed with Latex, which makes them considerably longer than hand-written reports.

    Often labs would take all afternoon, i.e. 1pm to 5pm, and we needed to prepare for them before, researching something in books, reading print-outs, finding research papers etc.

    But I hear this is unusual, at the university I went to the physics department had a weed-out policy which was done in the sophmore level courses. I know this because the Head of the physics department told us this himself. I don't know how similar aerospace engineering will be.
     
  6. Jul 26, 2011 #5
    You'll be fine. The intro physics/chem courses are required for many majors so they do not put much emphasis on them. When you get into the courses that are solely required for your own specific major(say, aerodynamics), then the courses are harder in general.
     
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