Experimentation in Physics

Introduction/Background: Amir Yacoby, Robert M Westervelt, and Carey Witkov worked together to create an active approach to carrying out experiments in physics. 

Goal/s: To get the students physically and intellectually involved in actually carrying out an experiment, rather than following a series of steps.

  • Each lab section began with a short introduction to the topic, the apparatus, and the type of data to be recorded.
  • Each week, the students carried out an experiment.
  • In the first half of the course, each group of 2-3 students carried out the same experiments, to introduce them to the LoggerPro software and measurement system, and to learn how to handle the statistics and errors of data.
  • In the second part of the course, the students selected a 2-3 week experimental project, different from group to group, where they ran experiments in a open way - e.g they decided what to measure and how to make the measurements using the parts bin next door, instead of following a fixed set of instructions.
  • At the end of each project, the students gave a short talk, or a poster presentation of their project and it's results.
Follow-up: Students were asked to present a short talk or a poster presentation 

 Experimentalist should all learn how to do experiments. Most courses typically don't teach them how to do this.

The Physics 15a lab is equipped with a set of Mac computers with LoggerPro software and sensors. Using LoggerPro the students can carry out a wide variety of experiments on mechanical systems, record and graph the data, without becoming overly involved with the details of how each sensor works. The Physics 15a lab also has a room filled with parts, sensors, and instruments to carry out a wide variety of experiments, and the students have access to these, in order to give them the flexibility to modify the experiment as they like, instead of carrying out a fixed abc set of actions.