Physics 107/109 and Science One - Keeping a Lab Notebook
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Keeping a Laboratory Notebook

Keeping a good lab book is essential for a good phycisist, and we want to make sure that you learn this skill. There are a million reasons for keeping good a lab book, some of them being:

  • It is often of interest to go back and see exactly WHAT you did in a certain experiment, or in a piece of analysis, in case you're in doubt about your work.
  • If you ever want to dispute a patent that has been (falsely?) applied for by someone else, but that you believe belongs to you, then you can go and show your lab book where you have notes describing your work.
  • Mathematical or physical derivations can be put in your book, once and for all. Re-derivation is thus kept to a minimum.
  • We need to see what you do in order to give you a mark!

A lab book is not supposed to have the quality and look of a formal report (although you will be doing one of these late in the term), but rather be a summary of the experiment. You should treat it like a diary of everything you do, both in the lab and in the analysis that you do outside of the lab. Include at least the following:

  • The date and the name of the person you are working with.
  • A statement describing what you were investigating each time you start working in the notebook (a sort of 'introduction').
  • A fairly detailed description of the experimental setup with drawings/diagrams (!).
  • Tabulated data (which should be clear AND include units), as well as a simple graph of all data collected. This is in order to ensure that your data are good. Quick graphs give you a chance to remeasure data that looks suspicious or wrong in some way!
  • Analysis of data, i.e. what you've done to the raw data to get them into presentable form, what equations were used and why, including a sample calculation. ANALYSIS OF UNCERTAINTY IS CRUCIAL here, make sure that ALL measured quantities have an estimated uncertainty, and that all derived quantities also incluse an uncertainty.
  • Graphs/plots from a program of your choice, or, if you prefer, a carefully handmade graph. Please glue the plots/graphs onto a page in your lab book. Loose sheets (even those stapled to one corner) are not enough, we want them glued in.
  • A thorough discussion of the results you arrived at in the experiment. Do they make sense? What uncertainties might not have been accounted for? How could you improve the experiment? etc...

Any lab notebook will naturally contain the bare minimum, like data, some graphs, and some discussion. A GOOD lab report contains all of this, plus careful description of the experimental setup, DETAILED analysis of uncertainty (shows you're an experimentalist that thinks about your experiment), and the thorough discussion of your results, in other words, a GOOD lab notebook contains all the complicated stuff. It is not enough to cruise through the lab manual, do the tasks and mechanically answer the questions.