Lab Notebooks

The use of lab notebooks for scientific documentation is a ubiquitous part of physics research. These records, documented in physics labs all around the world, constitute the foundational information for essentially all the published experimental results found in physics journals. Without thoughtful and thorough records of experimental progress, it is difficult to imagine physicists successfully navigating the complexities of today's research frontier. Given its importance, the skill of scientific documentation and how it is developed deserves more active consideration than it has to date.

Writing in Labs

Writing is an integral part of the process of science. In the undergraduate physics curriculum, the most common place that students engage with scientific writing is in lab classes, typically through lab notebooks, reports, and proposals. There has not been much research on why and how we include writing in physics lab classes, and instructors may incorporate writing for a variety of reasons. Through a broader study of multiweek projects in advanced lab classes, we have developed a framework for thinking about and understanding the role of writing in lab classes.

Physics Measurements Questionnaire

The Physics Measurement Questionnaire (PMQ) is a survey that measures student reasoning about measurement uncertainty at the intro physics level. It was developed over a decade ago by Prof. Saalih Allie et al. at the University of Cape Town, ZA. The survey concerns an experiment in which a ball rolls down a ramp and then flies through the air in free-fall before landing some horizontal distance away from where it started.

SPRUCE for Researchers

We are currently developing a new research-based assessment instrument called the Survey of Physics Reasoning on Uncertainty Concepts in Experiments (SPRUCE). We are doing this in partnership with Prof. Rachel Henderson and Prof. Marcos D. Caballero at Michigan State University (see here). SPRUCE will measure student learning connected to measurement uncertainty at the intro undergraduate level in the context of experimental physics.   

Ownership of Projects

Promoting students' sense of ownership over their work is an important aspect of learning, both in instructional and research settings. The importance of ownership is recognized by many instructors and advisors to be an important outcome of their students' efforts. However, for many instructors and researchers, what it means to have a sense of ownership may be understood only in broad and surface-level terms. In physics, one promising venue for engaging students in projects over which they feel ownership is the instructional lab course.

ECLASS for Researchers

The Colorado Learning Attitudes about Science Survey for Experimental Physics (E-CLASS) was developed as a broadly applicable assessment tool for undergraduate physics lab courses. At the beginning and end of the semester, the E-CLASS assesses students' views about their strategies, habits of mind, and attitudes when doing experiments in lab classes. Students also reflect on how those same strategies, habits of mind, and attitudes are practiced by professional researchers.

Modeling in Project-Based Labs

Open-ended lab activities are beneficial for students' learning and their beliefs and attitudes about experimental physics. In particular, student-designed multiweek projects are an increasingly common feature in advanced lab courses, where students can design their own questions, experimental procedures, and analysis methods as they engage in authentic experimental practices. In this context, we investigate students' engagement with modeling and their views about the process of experimental physics. 


The term troubleshooting often refers to the process of repairing a malfunctioning apparatus. In this sense, troubleshooting can be thought of as a type of modeling: the physical apparatus is refined in order to bring its performance into better alignment with expectations that are informed by a model for how the apparatus should perform. Troubleshooting is also a type of problem-solving where the solution state is known but the solution path is unknown: "What’s wrong and how do I fix it?"

MAPLE for Researchers

The Modeling Assessment for Physics Laboratory Experiments (MAPLE) is an assessment that has been developed to measure students' processes of modeling in advanced-level lab classes focusing on either electronics or optics. The assessment consists of two surveys: a pre-test on mechanics (measuring the acceleration due to gravity using a pendulum) and a post-test on either an inverting amplifier circuit or a polarizer setup.

Experimental Modeling Framework

The Experimental Modeling Framework (EMF) is one way to describe the nonlinear, recursive process through which experimental physicists develop, use, and refine models and apparatus. In the context of upper-division physics lab courses, we developed the EMF to characterize students' model-based reasoning and to inform the development of instructional lab environments that engage students in the practice of modeling.  A diagram of the EMF is shown at left, and a pdf is available for download below.