Waves and Optics Laboratory Manual
Written by Melvin Oakes

Melvin Oakes, a professor of physics, taught waves and optics to sophomore physics students at the University of Texas at Austin. The laboratory associated with the lecture needed some upgrading when he began teaching the course. In order to address common complaints about physics laboratory courses, he decided to make a major change in the approach to physics laboratory teaching. Among the complaints are: (1) Failure to sync lectures and labs. (2) Students going through the motions of performing the lab, much like baking a cake with no understanding of the purpose of the procedures and equipment provided them. Any serious thought about the experiment occurs after the lab has finished and the student has "left the building." (3) The tendency for one student to do the lab and others act as "scribes."

Among the changes implemented to address the issues were: (1) Longer laboratory periods permitting lab writeups to be completed during the laboratory session. (2) Self-contained labs that did not need to be preceded by the lectures in the class. Here the idea was to let the laboratory experiments support the theory presented in the lectures. The students having seen the phenomena in advance would likely have more interest in the relevant theoretical ideas being presented. (3) The problem of students not really being aware of what conclusions they should draw from a particular procedure they have completed, was addressed by having students answer questions at various points during the experiment and not wait until they have left the lab room and no longer have the equipment to redo what they failed to understand. (4) Laboratory assistants administered simple "practical tests" periodically. These question only involed lab procedures, e. g. "How did you measure the voltage of the source?" Instructors were encouraged to continuously move through the lab groups with questions. If you served as only a scribe, these questions would be difficult to answer.

The manual is placed here in the hope that some students will find and make use of it. Much of the equipment used in the lab is very simple and available around the house or from hardware stores or online stores. Smartphone apps today are available to analyze sound with ease. Students can profit from reading through the labs and answering the question based on the illustrations of the equipment and their anticipation of what would occur in the experiment. Click link below to access the manual. If you wish to comment, see email link below.

Circular waves image credit: Gerd Altman, Pixabay.com

Waves and Optics Lab Manual

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