General Information Concerning the IPL

The IPL office is in room 323CH (Churchill). The laboratories are on the third floor of Churchill. The phone number is 617.373.2965. Feel free to contact one of the laboratory directors by email if your TA cannot help you with a problem. If you call the office, and there is no answer, wait for the answering machine to turn on, and leave a message on how to reach you, or just come by the supervisor’s office. The laboratory has an informal atmosphere and you should try to enjoy the things we ask you to do. Please adhere to the following rules:

  • The lab is scheduled for 170 minutes. Plan to spend the whole 170 minutes in the lab. We expect you to be on time. You have one week to complete your lab report and submit it via the “Turnitin” process on Blackboard. Please remember to forward to your TA the electronic receipt that you receive by email after a successful Turnitin lab submission. Failure to do so will result in a 5 point deduction from your grade.
  • Do not eat, drink, or smoke in the labs, and follow Laboratory safety rules.
  • You should bring the IPL lab manual, USB flash drive, sharp pencil, and calculator to each lab. All these items are available in the NU Bookstore.
  • Do not move equipment from table to table or from room to room unless authorized by your TA.
  • Do not turn on equipment unless authorized by your TA. Note that some equipment could be hazardous unless used properly. Take proper precautions. If in doubt, ask your TA.
  • Come to the lab prepared. This means you should read the manual, answer the pre-lab questions and compose the introduction for the experiment of the day. You should also review the relevant physics topic in your physics lecture text. Most of the work: including recording data, analyzing, making graphs, calculations, drawing conclusions, answering questions, etc. is best done by you during the lab period when the TA is available to assist you.

We trust that you will find this course a worthwhile and educational experience. As a laboratory course, it is quite different from the usual lecture courses. The experiments you will perform here should give you hands-on experience with the physical laws and phenomena that you study in the physics lecture courses. You will work together with a partner, who should rotate each week. You will be in a group no larger than ten students, instructed by a Teaching Assistant (TA), who is also a graduate student in our physics department. “Doing a lab” means that — with your partner — you will take data (make measurements) on some piece of apparatus, record these data in a note book, analyze them, and draw conclusions. However, you will write up your lab individually; do not copy from your partner. This will improve your writing skills and lead you to a deeper understanding of the underlying physical principles. Aside from helping you comprehend the material in the physics lectures; it introduces you to the experimental method in science and affords you some experience with scientific apparatus.

Policy on Plagiarism

Do not copy your lab-partner’s write-up or let your partner copy yours. Duplication of text in your electronically submitted report will be checked automatically by the “Turnitin” software, so take this warning seriously. If you are copying text from someone else, or from some other source such as lab manual, textbooks and the Internet – rather than doing your own work, this is considered cheating and will be caught by the “Turnitin” automatic checking system. Copied or duplicate reports will lead to severe penalties (typically a 0 will be given for the lab). This penalty will apply to ALL individuals found to have duplicate text in their reports.

Submission of Lab Reports

Please see the Lab Report page for more details.  Upon “Turnitin” electronic submission, using the “Submit” button, you will receive a confirmation email from Turnitin (your “electronic receipt”) reporting that your submission has been successful.  If you do not get this receipt, you have NOT properly submitted your report.  In order to ensure that your reports have been submitted and received by your TA, we require that you forward a copy of the electronic receipt to your TA using email. Failure to forward your electronic receipt to your TA will result in a 5 point penalty (out of 100) on your graded lab report. We also ask that you check that your report has been submitted correctly by using the Blackboard grade book. Go to the grade book, if you see an exclamation point, “!”, where the grade should be, this means that the report has been submitted but has not been graded. If you see a dash, “-”, the report has not been received and you should resubmit it. If a report is not graded within one or, at most, two weeks, e-mail your TA and the IPL faculty.

The Laboratory Routine

You will receive a schedule of the experiments that you will perform during the semester. A summary of each experiment can be found on the abstract page.  However, it is your obligation to read the write-up for each experiment in the lab manual prior to coming to the lab, and to be able to answer simple questions concerning the underlying physics of the experiment.  At the beginning of the lab, your TA will make comments on last week’s reports and give a brief introduction to the day’s lab. There are “pre-lab quiz” questions that are located after the “honors” questions at the back of each experiment in the lab manual. These must be answered in advance and turned in to your TA at the beginning of each lab period. Your TA may also quiz you on other questions at the beginning of the lab period. The “pre-lab” questions will count 5% of your total grade for each experiment.

A lab session lasts 170 minutes.  Students are expected to read the manual and review the topic of the experiment in their physics lecture text in advance. Students are also expected to bring the proper supplies (Sharp pencil, calculator, lab manual, ruler, computation book) to the lab. After the pre-lab and introduction is complete, you should enter in your notebook the day’s date, your partner’s name, and your initial impression of the physical principle you are exploring and purpose of the experiment you will be performing in the laboratory. Your TA is your most important resource, so don’t hesitate to ask him/her questions. He/she is there to help you, to explain things to you, to show you the proper use of the equipment, etc.

Then you begin to make measurements, take data, etc. according to the experiment outline. Record all data and analysis work directly in your computation book, not on loose paper, even at first! If you make a mistake, cross it out (everybody makes mistakes!). Your computation book should be a complete record of your work, errors and all. It should be well organized; data put into clearly arranged and labeled tables and with comments and explanations throughout, so that the flow of your work becomes apparent.  Always record data as indicated by the apparatus and not as you thought it ought to be, if different. The entire experiment has to be done during the lab period. This includes becoming familiar with the apparatus, taking data and logging them properly in the computation books, and checking that everything is done right, is reproducible and makes sense.

Plot (plots should always use a full page!) and analyze data as soon as you obtain them, for each intermediate stage, and state clearly what you find. Discuss possible errors in your measurements.

After you have followed all steps in the experiment outline, complete the day’s work by another brief statement of the purpose of the experiment (often this will be different from your initial statement) and the conclusions you draw from your data and analyses. Sometimes you will find a discrepancy between your results and theoretical values. This is OK, but you need to discuss possible errors, and try to explain the reasons for any discrepancy.

When you are through, and have answered all questions, turn off your equipment and leave your table neat for the next person to use.


You have one week to complete your lab report and submit it using the “Turnitin” feature of Blackboard. The lab, as graded by your TA, should appear within one week on the “Turnitin” Blackboard site. If it does not, please email your TA and copy the Lab Supervisor.

Typically there are six experiments that have to be done and all six will be used in computing the final course grade. The student will receive a numerical grade (0 – 100) for each lab. The grade is based on preparation and Introduction, experimental work, data tables, calculations, graphs, analysis, conclusions and answers to questions. See the Grading and Makeup page for more detailed breakdown of grading. At the end of the quarter, the average of the numerical grades is sent to your lecture professor. A 1-credit lab grade will be given independently and this grade will also be counted as 10-15% of your overall lecture course grade (see lecture course syllabus). If a student passes the lab component and fails the lecture component, they only need to repeat the lecture component. In that case, the previous lab grade will not be factored into the repeated lecture component. Students are required to take the two components concurrently as co-requisites, unless they are repeating a component.

Physics (Tutoring) Workshop

The Physics Workshop is a free daily tutorial service that is conducted by physics graduate students, according to a posted schedule. Its purpose is to help you with any physics problems you may have, for instance your homework, the lectures, a lab you are preparing for, etc. The workshop will be located on the 3rd floor of Churchill in one of the designated rooms. For the Workshop Schedule and other available services please go to the Help with Physics Classes page.