The experiments which you will perform this semester have been selected with two purposes in mind: to relate physical experience to some of the concepts which you will be learning in class, and to provide an opportunity for you to learn some of the skills and techniques which the physicist uses in exploring the connection between theory and experiment. The laboratory instructors will be available to help you understand the basis of each experiment, but the responsibility for preparation lies with you. You will find that the laboratory experience is most intellectually rewarding, as well as enjoyable, when you arrive prepared for the labs and perform them with care.
Some of the experiments are not directly related to the topics discussed in class, but are intended to acquaint you with the methodology of scientific inquiry. This semester we will particularly emphasize the theory of errors, their origins, and how they influence the results of an experiment. While at first some of the exercises may seem trivial, it cannot be stressed too strongly that the skills associated with analyzing data properly form the backbone of scientific investigation. The outcome of an experiment is only as valid as the method used in obtaining the result.
In the first laboratory exercise you will examine the errors associated with a series of measurements. Before proceeding, you are first asked to consider the simple concept of significant figures and the skill of drawing useful graphs. The essentials are discussed in the next few pages.