Introduction to Experimental Physics

May 2021

Andrew is hands down the smartest and best TA ever. Had him twice for two different classes. His recitations were super helpful and I found him to be even better than the professor at explaining concepts. He is also a very lax grader and is not demanding whatsoever so having him for any class is honestly the dream.

May 2015

Painful and useless class. No one takes it seriously. Most of the experiments failed with horrible data since we either didn't perform them correctly since the manual sucked or because the equipment was bad. The lab reports were a pain to write and took up a lot of time that I could have spent doing something useful. Our TA was pretty chill and didn't really care as long as we explained the catastrophic results in our reports. Find a reliable buddy to work with so you can split the work during the lab and check with each other when you write the lab report.

Apr 2012

So, the teacher Aaron Veicht was pretty okay. He clearly didn't give a crap about teaching this class which is fine because no one else did either. No qualms with him. I like physics. I like labs. I hate this class with a passion. First, some general statements about the course: Let me just comment on the insanely frustrating situation that are the physics requirements for engineering students with an AP Physics background.I took AP Physics in high school so I could GET OUT of doing this crap here. I worked hard to get a 5 in both Mechanics and E&M, and then I come to Columbia and they present me with two options: either I can retake both classes and the lab, or I can devote 20 hours a week to accelerated Physics 2800, compete with actual physics majors (which I am not), and generally spend my entire freshman year working on a class I'm not even interested in. So I started with the latter option but quickly reconsidered, like so many others. No matter, I simply didn't go to class ever for either Mechanics or E&M (1600 level) and easily got A's in both. But then this. This class. I spend 10 hours a week working on lab reports. I have learned LITERALLY NOTHING. I even learned more in my political science class freshman year. At least I learned I didn't like political science. I spend every Tuesday evening in a mind-numbingly boring lab doing experiments I'VE ALREADY DONE BEFORE with a lab assistant who is singularly the most unhelpful person I have ever met.To think of the time I could have devoted to a different class...I generally spend my Tuesday nights drinking in order to recover from the ordeal (see the Whiskey post below. Seriously, consider this method. Why did I only drink after lab when I could have been drinking before and during too? My only regret this semester.) And then to go through all this and to know that in the end, my final grade will be COMPLETELY ARBITRARY, has made me consider illegally throwing glass objects onto unsuspecting pedestrians out my 8th-story window many times. The physics department NEEDS to go over some kind of rubric with the TAs over what are reasonable and unreasonable things to take points off. It should be POLICY that TAs are REQUIRED to return graded lab reports within one week of turning them in. Waiting until the last (10th) week of lab to get back graded lab reports 4,5,7,8...No. It's utterly ridiculous to expect students to make improvements without any understanding of what they are doing wrong. Getting points taken off for the same formatting error four weeks in a row? Is this about learning or about creating an arbitrary grading curve? (Rhetorical question: It's the latter.) Dear Physics Department: I hope there is no confusion as to why I hate you. Yilei Li is the most irrational grader I have ever had the displeasure of meeting. I have made zero analysis, zero calculation, zero conceptual, and zero reasonable formatting errors, yet my scores have ranged from 4/10 to 9/10. No. It doesn't even matter what the median is. Yes, some of grading is relative, but some of it *is* absolute and if more Columbia instructors realized this maybe the depression rate wouldn't be so high around here. I spent so much time every week working on these lab reports and just because I didn't include captions on my figures when they were adequately discussed in the "Results" section does not equal taking off 10% of my grade. I guarantee you, adding a one sentence caption to my report would not have constituted 10% of the time and effort I spent working on the lab. The best part is WE NEVER EVER WENT OVER FORMATTING IN RECITATION OR LAB. Yes, I'm a competent enough individual to know what the main components of a physics lab report are. When I got a 4/10 due entirely to petty formatting errors (during the 5th week of lab, mind you, he could have corrected these things earlier), I DID NOT FAIL TO DO 60% OF THE ASSIGNMENT. My grade fluctuated drastically around the median so even though it's near the end of the semester I have absolutely NO idea what grade to expect. The entire grading curve is based on the TA's whimsical formatting preferences. Conclusion: This class is 100% bull. If I were younger taking this class without much experience but with an enthusiasm to learn more about the wonderful world of physics, I would run away screaming and never return. Wait, I'm just going to do that anyway.

Dec 2011

Oh, the horror! I provide this review not to help you decide whether to take this class (after all, you have no choice) but rather to suggest a coping mechanism. A little background: the SEAS bulletin suggests that you complete your lab science requirement some time during your freshman or sophomore years. There were other things I wanted to do, so I ignored these suggestions and put it off until later. At some point I discovered that my roommate had been doing the exact same thing, so we decided to wait until the last possible moment and take it together. First semester of senior year arrives; we register for 1493. It is so tedious I want to set myself on fire to provide some diversion. It is unspeakably, indescribably awful. So my lab partner and I do what any reasonable undergraduate would do in this situation: we try to make it better with alcohol. We buy a bottle of whiskey, and label it "Science Whiskey." We store it in our suite. Every day before lab, we help ourselves to a generous portion of science whiskey, then fill up a water bottle and bring along some more for the road. Lab, if not fun, at least becomes tolerable. And extraordinarily, the science whiskey actually makes us better at science. We are the first group done nearly every week, and our lab report grades are consistently higher than those of our classmates. The moral of the story? It's a lousy requirement, but nothing a little creative intoxication can't render palatable.

Jan 2007

He's a fun guy to have TA physics lab, but more work that other TAs. He lectures at the beginning of lab enough that the only prep work you need is to read through the lab once for 5 minutes. He's really into physics and excited about it. He will make sure you do that whole lab, though (other TAs sometimes let groups skip sections of the lab). He understands what's going on- so your experiments will work. You'll stay later at lab working than you will for other TAs, and he's more anal about the labs (and not that easy a grader, either). I think Prof Dodd (who runs the physics lab) knows this, and thus gives people in Jamie's lab higher grades than they've earned. Basically, you work a lot harder for this lab but you'll get graded on an easier curve. I'd probably recommend another TA (for a lower workload) but if you end up with this guy it'll be okay in the end.

Dec 2004

Physics Lab was required for my major, unfortunately. After not learning anything in previous physics classes, the physics itself actually wasn't so hard. You simply go once a week to a lab and follow instructions. The average lab took an hour and a half, even though it was scheduled to go three hours. Then you write up the lab and turn it in the next week. For the lab reports, the hardest thing to do is error propagation; the rest is pretty straightforward.

Dec 2003

This TA is an unreal guy! Probably the nicest grad student I've ever met. He's an Italian with the classic long haired look. Very approachable and always helpful! If you get the choice I strongly urge you to take him.

Dec 2003

Switch out of the section if you have him. Arne is not a mean person; he just makes the lab class ridiculously difficult. He curves around B/B+ for every lab report with most students falling around the middle. (Don't dismiss this just because I talk about grades--read on.) For most of you that means however hard you try you will find yourself getting scores between 4.8 and 5.2 (over 10.0) every single time. You may work harder, but so will everyone else. By the end of the semester the curve becomes insanely competitive. Now, I don't think that students should only care about grades, but I personally (and I would venture to guess that most people will agree) don't think it makes sense to curve physics lab like Arne does. First of all, although he thinks he never makes mistakes (he said it himself), evaluation of lab reports isn't numerical and objective. Does it make sense to curve essays? And unless it's something major, he doesn't really tell you what is wrong with your work. You can be doing flawless reports and still getting 4.8's and not knowing why (because the other reports are spectacular). More importantly, there is absolutely NO point making an INTRODUCTORY lab class so insanely competitive. Every lab report took me 5/6 hours of stressful work, and every time I got a 5.0 back (all checks, no mistakes), not because it wasn't good, but because everyone else's was just as good. Words cannot describe the extreme frustration and pain this class brought upon me. I would MUCH rather take a harder class (even get a worse grade) than suffering through this shyt. At least that could be interesting and I would actually learn something. The physics lab material is boring as hell, and Arne makes things worse by insisting on meticulous error analyses. Whatever you might get out of this class (very little in my case) would not be worth the extreme torture it entails. Get out.

Jul 2002

He lectures once a week for physics lab, and it's a complete waste of time to go. Not only is he hard to understand (and get confused when students ask questions), the things he teaches is seem to pop out of nowhere... All of a sudden you'd see all these variables on the board and you have no clue what they are and what they do. Most of the information are in the lab manuals, and reading through that gives you all that you need to know for the course. There's no midterm and no final, just lab reports every week. Just get to know your TA cuz everything goes through TAs, including grading, attendance, participation, etc..