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Physics and Astronomy Introductory Physics Labs

WSU Physics Department Lab Syllabus

Lab Director




Dr. Marc Weber

Webster Hall Room 527 or 341


To apply what you learn in the lecture, you will need some skills and concepts that are best learned in the laboratory. These skills include model building, data collection and analysis, laboratory record keeping, and formal reporting of results. You will also need enough statistics to perform elementary hypothesis testing. These skills apply to quantitative work in many fields, including the health- and life-sciences, math, and engineering. Although these activities should improve your understanding of the lecture material, our principle goal is to turn theory into practice.  Most students in introductory physics courses have had lab experience in chemistry and other disciplines. We build on that experience. Your teaching assistants will not be as specific about their requirements as your chemistry teaching assistants were. You will often be expected to figure things out on your own in consultation with your lab partner, and will be graded on the quality of those decisions. Since you will be working more independently, you will be required to document your work more carefully, with less input from your teaching assistant.

To accomplish these goals, you will be expected to:

  • Build simple physical models that incorporate lecture material.
  • Design and perform simple experiments to test or improve these models.
  • Employ representative software packages for data collection and analysis.
  • Document your experimental methods, results, and data analysis in a lab notebook.
  • Evaluate and compare results using uncertainties.
  • Communicate your work in writing (short and long formal assignments).


Relevant University Learning Objectives:

1Critical and creative thinking

2Quantitative reasoning

3Scientific literacy



Student responsibilities

  • Read the syllabus. The regulations/guidelines in this syllabus take precedence over any oral commitments that may be made. The Lab Director is responsible for the final interpretation of these policies.
  • Arrive at your regularly scheduled lab section on time. Note that the lab rooms change from week to week. The room schedules are posted on the bulletin boards across from the elevators on the second, third and fourth floors of Webster Hall.
  • Perform all labs and the lab exam. If you miss or expect to miss a lab due to sickness or another valid reason, refer to the Requests for Make-Up Laboratories section of this syllabus about arranging a make-up laboratory.
  • Make sure that all submitted work is your own. Academic dishonesty is not tolerated and is grounds for failing the course.
  • Before each lab period read the lab manual and related course material, particularly if the material has not already been covered in lecture.
  • Bring your lab manual, calculator, pen and pencil, pad of engineering paper, and scratch paper to lab each week.
  • Come prepared to perform mathematical calculations based on the level of math appropriate for the course. This includes algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. For Physics 201 and 202, calculus is also required.
Do not bring food, tobacco, or beverages into a lab room.

Final lab grades


Your final lab grade is awarded on the basis of:

Lab Assignments

Lab Exam



Consult your lecture instructor for the weight given to the lab grade in the total course grade.

Lab assignments include (1) lab notes recording during lab, (2) complete or partial formal reports
of laboratory work; and (3) tutorials and quizzes performed during lab. Although each lab partner
in a group will report the same data, it is expected that your data analysis, discussion of results,
and conclusions will be your own. For more information regarding lab notes and reports, refer to
the Physics Lab Notes and Reports document immediately following this syllabus.

All laboratory exercises are important. No scores are dropped at the end of the semester.

The lab exams are administered during Closed Week. The exam may include any experimental
techniques, methods of data analysis, and/or concepts covered during the semester. You may refer
to your graded lab work for the current semester and the lab manual during the exam. You may
not refer to the textbooks or other references. Work on the exam is individual (no lab
partners). Bring your calculator. Look for more information about the exams, including
sample problems, on the website for your physics course.

Questions regarding grades on lab assignments need to be discussed with your teaching assistant within two weeks of the
student receiving the graded material (earlier at the end of the semester). Your lab grade is
reported to the course instructor at the end of the semester and is incorporated into your overall
physics course grade as defined on the instructor’s syllabus. Final lab grades will be posted on
the bulletin board on the 3rd floor of Webster Hall during Finals Week. To affect the final lab
grades submitted to the instructors, changes/questions need to be made by Friday morning of
Final Exam week. Errors that affect your physics course grade will be corrected after final grades
are submitted to the Registrar, if necessary.

By Physics and Astronomy Department policy, students earning lab grades below 50 will
receive an F grade for the course, irrespective of their performance in the lecture portion of
the course. On the other hand, students who fail the course but achieve a laboratory grade
of at least 80 may choose to “carry over” this score when the course is retaken. To take
advantage of this option, a student must notify the lab director no later than the first week of the
semester that the course is being repeated. (100-level labs cannot substitute for 200-level labs.)

Equalization of grades

Equalization of grades

At the end of the semester, the average student scores will inevitably differ from lab section to
lab section. The lab director will adjust the assignment and exam scores to make the grading
more equitable. Thus students who were graded more rigorously than average will be raised in
grade, while those who were graded too leniently will be lowered in grade. The lab assignment
and lab exam scores will be adjusted (normalized) using the following formula:

\textsf{Normalized \ Score}=\frac{\textsf{(Student's \ Average \ - \ Section \ Average)}}{\textsf{Section \ Standard \ Deviation}}*7.5+85

After normalization, the average assignment score (and the average exam score) for each section
will be 85 and the section standard deviation will be 7.5. This mean and standard deviation
correspond to the standard 90-80-70-60 grading scale, where 90–100 is an A, 80–89.99 is a B,
70–79.99 is a C, 60–69.99 is a D, and below 60 is an F (for the lab).

The final lab score is formed by adding 80% of the normalized assignment score and 20%
of the normalized exam score. From this total, 6.667 points will be subtracted for each week of missing lab
work. The resulting final lab score will be sent to your lecture instructor, who will incorporate it
into your final course grade. If your lecture instructor uses a different grade scale, an additional
adjustment may be required.


Assignment submission policies


Regular assignments are normally due at the beginning of the next lab session. All work must be submitted to your laboratory teaching assistant by Tuesday, the day of the lab exam.

If you have reason to believe that an assignment that you submitted has been lost, report it
immediately to your teaching assistant.

Some assignments and tutorials will be completed during the lab period and are due before you
leave the room. Your teaching assistant in your lab will let you know when this is the case.

Requests for make up laboratories


Do not attend lab if you are ill with something contagious. When you are well enough to attend, contact your teaching assistant and arrange for a make up laboratory. Unless your illness lasts more than a few days, laboratories must be made up within one week of the missed lab.

If you expect to miss your regularly scheduled lab to attend a university-approved activity, you are also expected to make up the missed laboratory. Make up laboratories for scheduled absences must be arranged in advance with your teaching assistant. Approved activities include music and athletic events in which you perform. They do not include exam review sessions or group project meetings for other courses.

Student conduct


“Washington State University, a community dedicated to the advancement of knowledge, expects
all students to behave in a manner consistent with its high standards of scholarship and conduct.
Students are expected to uphold these standards both on and off campus and acknowledge the
University’s authority to take disciplinary action. The purpose of these standards and processes is
to educate students and protect the welfare of the community.”—Quoted from the Preamble to
the Washington State University Standards of Conduct for Students.

A partial list of prohibited conduct appears in Washington Administrative Code (WAC) Section 504-26. Of special importance to the laboratories is the false reporting of data,
experiment results, information, or procedures. Reporting data acquired by others (including
your lab partner if you do not contribute) or in previous semesters is academically dishonest.
Fabrication of results, information, or procedures, and sabotaging other students’ work is also
prohibited. Likewise, sharing information about the end-of-semester lab exam with students yet
to take the exam is prohibited. Violations of this policy will affect your lab grade and may be
reported to the Student Conduct Committee as instances of academic dishonesty.

Students are expected to avoid behavior that unnecessarily interferes with the learning of other
students. We expect students to be on time to labs and lab exams and to mute their cell phones
for the duration. The concepts of physics are subtle, and even the most intelligent students make
mistakes. In this environment, it is important that students be willing to raise objections if they
don’t understand what their lab partners say or do. To this end, we require that students and
teaching assistants alike avoid behavior that discourages communication. This includes threats
and insults. Students who repeatedly disrupt lab may be directed to leave the room and may
receive a zero grade for that week’s lab.

Disability accommodations


Reasonable accommodations are available for students with documented disabilities. If you have
a disability and need accommodations to fully participate in the lecture or lab, call or visit the
Access Center in the Washington Building, Room 217 (Phone: 335-3417, E-mail: All accommodations must be approved
through the Access Center. Notify both your lecture instructor and the lab director during the first
week of lecture concerning any approved accommodations. Late notification may cause the
requested accommodations to be unavailable.

Safety resources


General information on campus safety can be found in the Campus Safety Plan. Information on how to prepare for potential emergencies is posted on the Office of Emergency Management web site. Weather warnings and safety alerts are posted promptly at the WSU Alerts site. Urgent warnings that apply to the entire University community will also be broadcast using the Campus Outdoor Warning System (speakers mounted on Holland Library and other buildings) and the Crisis Communication System (e-mail, phone, cell phone). For this purpose, it is important to keep your emergency contact information up to date on the zzusis system. To enter or update this information, click the “Update Now!” link listed in the “Pullman Emergency Information” box on your zzusis home page.

Safety information that applies to the student laboratories appears in the Lab Manual. Your
teaching assistant will also present any safety information that applies to the current laboratory at
the beginning of the laboratory. Students are expected to conduct themselves responsibly and
take no unnecessary risks in the course of their work. Students who disobey the safety
instructions of the teaching assistant will be directed to leave the room. All accidents and injuries
must be reported promptly to your teaching assistant.

In case the fire alarm sounds, leave the building promptly in an orderly fashion. If you are not on
a ground floor, use the stairs. Do not use the elevator. After exiting the building, gather at the
basketball court behind Waller Hall (down hill from Webster Hall) with the other members of
your lab. A representative of the Department of Physics and Astronomy will tell you when it is
safe to re-enter the building. If this does not happen before the end of the lab period, you are free
to leave for your next class.

Possible Changes


The lab director reserves the right correct errors in the syllabus and to modify the lab schedules and room assignments.

The lab director has delegated some authority to modify assignments and due dates to your teaching assistant. This helps ensure that your are graded according the criteria stated during your lab meeting.