Department of Physics, Middlebury College


Modern Physics Laboratory

Instructions for Completing Laboratory Reports

This year you will perform twelve modern physics experiments. During an experiment you are to record all raw data in an appropriate laboratory notebook. This record of your actual measurements must be handed in with all final laboratory reports.

Within two weeks following completion of a given experiment, you are to hand in a laboratory report that will be specified to be informal or formal, as described below.

1. Informal Report.

An informal report is written entirely within your laboratory notebook. The report should include clearly written descriptions and explanations of important phenomena observed during the experiment. In addition to raw data, the report should contain any tables, diagrams, or calculations that are required for the analysis of your experimental results. Be sure to answer all questions that are asked in the laboratory manual. Few students use even half of the pages of their lab notebooks, so don't be afraid to draw large, easy-to-read diagrams, and use empty space to help organize your work. The informal report should end with a conclusion section that contains a clear statement of the results obtained from the experiment.

2. Formal Report.

This is a report to be typed and prepared in style similar to that used in this laboratory manual. This laboratory manual has been prepared largely in the style recommended by the American Institute of Physics (AIP) for AIP publications.1 It is important that you look carefully at the way tables, figures, and equations are included within the body of a paper and how they are referred to within the text.
The formal report has six components.


(a) Abstract. Briefly describe the experiment including any central results. The abstract should not exceed four or five sentences. The abstract should be on the cover page of your laboratory report. Your cover page should give a title for the experiment and state the name(s) of your lab partner(s).


(b) Introduction. Motivate the experiment and give a concise summary of the physics involved, including any mathematical detail relevant to later discussion in the report.


(c) Procedure. Describe the experimental method and discuss how systematic and statistical errors were minimized. Include a careful drawing of relevant parts of the experimental apparatus if one was not given in the laboratory manual.


(d) Results. Present your raw data and explain how it was transformed to meaningful quantities for discussion. Present all essential results in both tabular and graphical form. Remember that all tables must have titles and all figures must have brief captions.


(e) Conclusion. Discuss your final results and what physics one can learn from them. Suggest improvements in experimental method.


(f) References. If you use any textbooks or reference books in some essential way while writing up your lab report, please cite them in the text of your report and include a bibliography at the end.

Both informal and formal reports must include a full evaluation of possible systematic and random uncertainties. Remember that the evaluation of the uncertainty in a result is at least as important as the result itself. For questions concerning uncertainty propagation or statistics, please consult Ref. 2.

Your reports will vary in length from 5 to 15 pages. A concise summary of relevant material is far more desirable than an exhaustive and wordy treatise.

1. Style Manual, 3rd ed. (American Institute of Physics, New York, 1978).
2. H.D. Young, Statistical Treatment of Experimental Data (McGraw-Hill, New York, 1962).

Table of Contents