Physics 163 - Quarter 2 Projects

Interactive Physics

The Lab Report

Interactive Physics Project Description

Interactive Physics Scoring Rubric

Due Dates

The Project Corner


Your success in this project will be evaluated using a scoring rubric. Your understanding of physics and your ability to design, conduct, and communicate the results of an experiment is the focus of the evaluation. Your final product will be a formal lab report which communicates your purpose, background understanding, procedure and findings, and conclusions. The formal lab report is thus the critical document which reflects your success. For this reason, it is important that you understand exactly what should be included in the formal lab report and how it should be put together. Directions for each step of the process have been described in the Overview for this project. The purpose of this page is to further explain the details.


Contents and Organization:

The lab report should include all the customary sections included in a lab report. Such sections include:

These sections should be clearly titled and organized in the exact manner as shown above. The graphic at the right depicts the organizational scheme which you should have and an approximate number of pages which each section might typically have.


Description of Each Section:

  1. Title Page - includes a meaningful title for your project report and the names of the experimenters. Some students will occassionally include a colorful graphic on the page.
  2. Purpose - a paragraph in which you describe the scenario which you are modeling and explicitly state the goal of your investigation; the purpose should be clearly stated along with the what-if question. A good guideline is to include the phrase "we will investigate the effect of ____________ (some controllable and modifiable variable) upon the ____________ (a measureable variable)." Procedural steps should not be discussed in the purpose section.
  3. Description of the Model - a description of the Interactive Physics model which you have created and a discussion of how it can be used to investigate the purpose of the project. Describe the appearance of the file and include a diagram of what the simulation set-up looks like (showing objects, input boxes, measuring tools, graphs, etc.). Provide a complete listing of input values for the various objects included in the model; a clearly-stated description of the what if? question which you will explore. Use a paragraph to describe how you will explore the what-if? question (what you will change and what you will be looking for); the dependent and independent variables must be clearly stated; specific values for the independent variable should be suggested.
  4. Theoretical Background - exhaustively describe the physics of the situation. Include diagrams, graphs, and other visuals which have been discussed in class or which you found in the book or other literature. Discuss Newton's laws, kinematic equations and graphs (p-t, v-t, and a-t), the work-energy theorem, momentum principles, vector analyses, and any other physics which seems applicable. In other words, apply physics to the situation by intelligently discussing the physics principles which apply to the motion scenario you have selected. Take time to look back through the book, the packet, and your class notes to find physics and make an effort to apply it to the situation. This is a critical part of your project and should be many pages in length. There is no minimum limit on the number of pages which must be included; and there is certainly not a maximum limit. The actual number of pages will be revealing of your knowledge level; "the more you know, the more you'll write."
  5. Data Section - include an organized listing of input and output data and observations; use a row-column format for data. Use whatever format makes the data most revealing of the patterns which your study reveals. If necessary, use more than one data table; this is especially important if you conducted several investigations (for example, if you modified one variable several times to investigate its effect on a measurable outcome and then repeated several more trials in which you modified a second variable and measured its effect on an outcome). If you include more than one data table, then give each table a title (e.g., "Modification of Initial Velocity"). A plot should be constructed (using computer software) of your collected data; this plot should include the dependent and the independent variables along the appropriate axis. Include the plot in this section.
  6. Discussion of Results (sometimes called the Conclusions) - briefly describe the successful versions of the model which you have constructed and discuss the findings of your what-if? question; support your findings with logic and by reference to the collected data. Comment on and discuss the relationship portrayed by your plotted data. Make specific reference to the names of the simulation files which you have saved. Do not merely restate your data section; rather, make generalizations - e.g., "as the initial velocity is doubled, the stopping distance increases by a factor of approximately four." Since you have plotted data, state the equation which describes the data and discuss its significance. Use a paragraph to discuss any errors which might have been associated with your experimentation and to make some suggestions which would improve the actual experimental procedure.


Common Errors and Pitfalls to Avoid:

There are a number of errors which are commonly made which you would be wise to avoid. Such errors include the following:

  1. Failure to write a formal lab report and the tendency to write a paper similar in style to a narrative.
  2. Failure to label the sections of the lab report such that it is not clear whether a given part of it is reporting on the procedure, the data or the conclusions.
  3. Tendency to place procedural statements in the purpose (e.g., "we will then measure the photogate time at point A and calculate the speed, repeating the measurements three times to insure accuracy") and in the Conclusion section (e.g., "we measured the photogate time and calculated the instantaneous speed and then found the kinetic energy and total mechanical energy...").
  4. Failure to write a solid and lengthy theoretical background and tendency to merely state a short hypothesis (e.g., "we believe that the higher the initial height, the greater the speed at point B."). The theory should be a lengthy section in which you demonstrate that you know how a wealth of physics applies to your chosen scenario.
  5. Failure to include a step-by-step detailed procedure which would provide sufficient direction for anyone to follow. The steps should be sequential and numbered and include enough detail for a person who is unfamiliar with the equipment to conduct the same study.
  6. Tendency to use the first person in the procedure section - "I then placed selected the rectangle tool. Then I drew a box by dragging on the screen. I then ...".
  7. Tendency to merely restate your measured data in the Discussion of Results section (e.g., "we measured the photogate times to be 0.0125 s when the height was 0.5 m and we measured the time to be 0.008 s when the height was 0.15 m").
  8. Tendency to make very general conclusions which (while perhaps true) have nothing to do with the idea behind the lab report (e.g., "This project was fun and we learned alot. We hope that we can do more projects like this.").

In general, all of these errors and pitfalls are usually the result of either not following project guidelines or rushing the project together at the last minute (which subsequently leads to a tendency to not follow directions). Thus, give yourself plenty of time and take the time and effort needed to be acquainted with the guidelines described on these Internet pages.



Exemplary (for the most part) projects are included online at The Refrigerator; a quick glance at these pages is highly recommended prior to the completion of your project. Such examples are not included for you to mimic, but rather as helpful illustrations of what your own end product might look like. Students should be cautioned that project guidelines change through the years and thus the online exemplars should not be considered as the definitive word concerning what should be included in the final lab report. The definitive word are the guidelines which are included on these Internet pages.

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Interactive Physics Scoring Rubric
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This page last updated on 11/30/98.