Homework, reading, schedule in general.
Lab Handouts and other information
Updated atomic spectroscopy handout.
Two sample lab reports, to aim for in terms of style and depth, from past classes with Prof. Gran and Prof. Maps.
What tool to use to write these? The examples above were written using the standard physics typesetting tool “LaTeX”. Worth learning if you haven't already, but not required. If you want to use your favorite word processing package, fine: getting equations typeset and good figures (not “bitmapped” jpegs or gifs, but something “scaleable” like pdf, eps, or svg) can be more challenging in a consumer-grade word processor.
How about software for data analysis and plotting? Figures are Really Important in these lab reports, and doing things like fits to data points vital to extracting the physics out of the mess of numbers.
Prof. Gran's webpage has a nicely phrased set of FAQs about the options.
There are windows computers in the lab to use while acquiring the data. There are linux workstations available for student use on the 4th floor of MWAH. If you don't yet have an account, talk to the instructor.
One software package that is common in physics and other sciences is MATLAB. The CS 1411 programming course recommended for Physics Majors uses this tool. Departmental computers as well as those in computer labs elsewhere on campus have this installed via a site license, so you can use it in these labs at no additional cost to you. There is also a free open-source product called Octave available for Linux and MacOS computers, which is designed to have good compatibility and interoperability with MATLAB.
For many of the labs, a spreadsheet will be an adequate and expedient tool for simple analysis and figure making. Or even making calculations on paper and typing in the results and just asking the spreadsheet to plot it for you. If you are doing the latter, you might also consider GnuPlot as a stand-alone graphing software with limited least-squares fitting ability. Available for all software platforms.
Many physics-y people combine graphic software and variations of a raw programming language (usually based on C++ or Python or FORTRAN ), often with packages or classes that are tailored to a sub-discipline like particle physics (e.g., Root) or astronomy (e.g., IDL). You can always just write code to read in text files (or .csv, which is the same thing) and Do Stuff to it. In which case, make the pictures using software like GnuPlot or your favorite spreadsheet. Another more radical choice is R, which combines a statistical analysis environment with graphical utilities. This is the equivalent to commercial statistics code used in other fields such as biology or psychology.
In a pinch, the logger-pro software you remember from the intro labs is available on the computers in lab. If all you need is a quick plot, you can use that. Mathematica is clunky and expensive for this particular kind of work, but if you happen to already be an enthusiast, that might succeed.