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ADVANCED

PRACTICAL PHYSICS
FOR STUDENTS
BY

B. L. WORSNOP
B.Sc., Ph.D.
Head of Quintin School
Formerly Senior Lecturer in Physics,
King's College, London
AND

H. T. FLINT
D.Sc., Ph.D.
Hildred Carlile Profeaaor of Physics
in the University of London, Bedford Colkge
Formerly Reader in Physics,
King'a College, London

WITH 8 PLATES
AND 496 DIAGRAMS AND ILLUSTRATIONS

NINTH EDITION, REVISED AND ENLARGED

!1 .
METHUEN & CO. LTD. LONDON
.

36 Essex Street. Strand, W.0.2


Thu book waa ji.rBt publiBhed in April 1923
It has been reprinted Beven timea
Ninth edition, revised and enlarged, 1951
Reprinted 1954
Reprinted with minor corrections 1957

9.3
OATALOOU11i NO. 7389/U

PRINTED AND BOUND lN GREAT BRITAIN


BY JARROLD AND SONS LTD, NORWICH
PREFACE
THE course of Practical Physics described in this book is based upon
that followed in King's College, London, by students who have com-
pleted their Intermediate Course, and who are proceeding to a Pass
or Honours Degree. This bas been extended, and it is hoped that the
book will be useful to a wider circle of students of physics than those
immediately concerned with University Examinations.
A number of well-known physicists have contributed to the develop-
ment of the King's College course, amongst whom we may mention
Professors H . A. Wilson, C. G. Barkla, H . S. Allen, and W. Wilson,
who formerly worked here in the Wheatstone Laboratory, and Professor
0. W. Richardson, the present occupant of the chair.
The general aim has been to provide with each experiment a short
theoretical treatment which will enable the student to perform the
experiment without immediate reference to theoretical treatises. To
aid this scheme an introductory chapter on the calculus has been
included. This chapter is an innovation in a book of this type, but it
is hoped that the student will find here a bridge over that period during
which his physics demands more advanced mathematics than his
systematic study of that subject has yet given him.
We take this opportunity of expressing our gratitude to Professor
0 . W. Richardson, who has allowed us to make use of laboratory
manuscripts and results of experiments. We are also greatly indebted
to our colleagues and to Mr. G. Williamson, who have given us many
suggestions, and to the Honours students of the past session who have
supplied us with numerical and graphical results. We have been greatly
helped by the ready assistance on the part of the Cambridge and Paul
Scientific Instrument Co., Messrs. Elliot Bros., Gambrell, Ltd., Adam
Hilger, Ltd., W . G. Pye & Co., and the Weston Electric Co., who
supplied us with the blocks for many of the illustrations.
B.L.W.
WHEATSTONE LABORATORY, H. T.F.
UNIVERSITY OF LONDON,
KING'S COLLEGE
March 1923
PREFACE TO NINTH EDITION
IN this edition we have undertaken a complete revision of the book.
The introdqctory chapter on the calculus which appeared in previous
editions seems to us now to be out of place in a work of this kind, since
students in these days acquire the necessary training in mathematics
before embarking upon a final degree course in experimental physics.
It has been replaced ·by a chapter on accuracy of observations. We
have also added chapters dealing with modern developments in physics,
especially in the branch of electronics, which have resulted in consider-
able changes in experimental teaching of the subject.
The object has been to teach the important physical principles under-
lying this branch of physics, and not to provide specialist instruction
in this field.
It is with great pleasure that we acknowledge the help of Dr. D.
Owen for his advice on electrical bridge methods.
B. L. W.
H. T. F.
May 1950

Ti
CONTENTS
OHAPTER PAGE
I. ERRORS OF OBSERVATIONS 1
II. MEASUREMENT OF LENGTH, AREA, VOLUME, AND MASS 15
III. MOMENTS OF INERTIA AND THE DETERMINATION OF 'g' 35
IV. ELASTICITY 66
V. SURFACE TENSION 106
VI. VISCOSITY 134
VII. THERMOMETRY AND THERMAL EXPANSION 169
VIII. CALORIMETRY 186
IX. VAPOUR DENSITY AND THERMAL CONDUCTIVITY 207
X. MISCELLANEQUS EXPERIMENTS IN HEAT 236
XI. REFLECTION OF LIGHT 255
XII. REFRACTION OF LIGHT 269
XIII. INTERFERENCE, ' DIFFRACTION, AND POLARIZATION 321
XIV. PHOTOMETRY 412
XV. SOUND 426
XVI. MISCELLANEOUS MAGNETIC EXPERIMENTS 459
XVII. TERRESTRIAL MAGNETISM 470
xvm. PERMEABILITY AND SUSCEPTIBILITY 478
XIX. AMMETERS, VOLTMETERS, AND GALVANOMETERS 493
XX. RESISTANCE MEASUREMENTS 528
XXI. MEASUREMENT OF POTENTIAL 571
XXII. MEASUREMENT OF CAP.A.CITY AND INDUCTANCE 590
xxm. THE QUADRANT ELECTROMETER 643
XXIV. MISCELLANEOUS ELECTRICAL EXPERIMENTS 663
XXV. THERMIONIC EMISSION AND VALVE CHARACTERISTICS 685
XXVI. THE THERMIONIC VALVE AS A GENERATOR OF OSCILLA-
TIO NS 707
XXVII. RADIO-FREQUENCY MEASUREMENTS 715
xxvm. THE CATHODE-RAY OSCILLOGRAPH 726
INDEX 743

vii
PLATES
Fw . 236

Fro. 240
,
" .
Fro. 320 Fm. 321

FIG. 328
Fie. 3;33

Frn. 33f>
Fro. 348

Fro. 350

Pre. 356
Fro. 372

F10. 373
CHAPTER I

ERRORS OF OBSERVATIONS

IN many experiments in the physics laboratory the object is the deter-


mination of the numerical value of a quantity. But it is not sufficient
merely to record the number which has resulted from the measurements
made in the course of the investigation. It is essential to give some
indication of the accuracy of the measurement.
It is often the case that the experiment is an exercise set to train
the student in the use of apparatus and in the methods of practical
physics, so that it frequently happens that the value which should
result is known to a high degree of accuracy. In this case an obvious
record of the accuracy of the experiment can be obtained by com-
parison with the known result and by expressing the deviation from
it in the form of a percentage error . This is, however, not a record of
accuracy such as is required. The observer must place himself in the
position of one who is ignorant of the true value of the quantity he is
trying to discover, and he must then give a record of the reliance to
be placed in the r esult he has obtained. This reliance will depend upon
a number of factors, such as the skill of the observer, the quality of the
apparatus he uses, and the constancy of the conditions under which
he is working.
What is required is some method of describing the accuracy of the
result in a useful and reasonable way. A definition for the estimation of
accuracy is therefore required, and as in the case of other definitions
the matter is one of convention combined with theoretical considera-
tions. In order to apply certain principles, which the theory of errors
brings to light, in a satisfactory way, a large number of determinations
of the quantity concerned have to be made. In the majority of the
investigations which a student is required to make it is therefore
impossible to derive a satisfactory estimation of accuracy in accordance
with the definition. There are a number of more obvious and simpler
considerations to be examined first, and an observer should pay atten-
tion to them in every experiment which leads to the determination of
a n umerical result:

The Order of Accuracy of Measurements


When an experiment is made in which the measurement of various
quantities is involved it is important to note with what accuracy each
quantity can be determined with the apparatus available. In the record
of the experiment the percentage accuracy with which the different
lengths, times, masses, or other quantities are measured should be noted.
1
2 ADV AN CED PRACTICAL PHYSICS FOR STUDENTS

The importance of this observation is not merely that it gives a


measure of the limit of accuracy which can be attained, but that it
directs attention to the degree of accuracy which is required in indi-
vidual measurements. This point is illustrated in one of the earliest
experiments which a student is required to perform in his physics
course. This is the experiment for the determination of the density of I
a solid body by direct measuremenfJ and weighing. The body consists
of a plate of metal with a thickness of the order of a millimetre and ·
with the other dimensions of a few centimetres. Vernier callipers
reading to O· l mm. and a micrometer screw gauge reading to 0·01 mm.
are usually provided. The idea of the experiment is to stress the fact
that, in order to maintain the same order of accuracy in the various
measurements of length, the thickness must be measured by the screw
gauge and the other dimensions by the callipers.
A balance is provided for the measurement of the mass of the metal
which can be determined to a milligram.
Suppose that the length of the sides are a and b and that the thickness
is c, the mass being M. As an example, let these have the values 10 cm.,
5 cm., 1 mm., and 50 gm. respectively. The percentage accuracies
with which these quantities can be measured with the apparatus pro-
vided are 1 \ , f,-, 1, and 5 ~ 0 respectively. The influence of these upon
the final measurement of the density p may be determined from the
formula
p = M/abc. ... ( 1)
The variation of p in terms of the variations of the other quantities
is derived from the formula
Bp BM Ba Bb Be
-p= M -a-b - o. .. . (2)

The values of BM, Ba, etc., may be positive or negative, and in some
cases the terms on the right-hand side of equation (2) may counteract
one another. This ffect cannot be relied upon, and it is necessary to
consider the worst case, which is that in which all the errors tend in
1
the same direction giving for the error Bp, the value corresponding to
the equation
Bp = BM +
Ba + +
Bb ~- ... (3)
P M a b c
In the case considered the fraction ~corresponds to 1 per cent and the
c
other contributions to Bp are insignificant. This is particularly the case
p
in the determination of the mass. It is not worth while to exercise
great care in the determination of the mass of 50 gm. to an accuracy
of 1 mg.
ERRORS OF OBSERVATIONS 3
The student is recommended, however, to measure carefully the
various quantities involved in using calculations of the kind discussed.
It is no disadvantage to measure some of the quantities more accurately
than is strictly necessary while a definite loss occurs if the unimportance
of any term on the right of equation (3) leads to a slipshod deter-
mination of the corresponding quantity. The point of this discussion
is to suggest the exercise of common sense in making the measurements
and to point out how the accuracy of the final result depends on the
various individual errors.
A case where much time is often lost and trouble often expended in
vain occurs in calorimetric experiments where temperature measure-
ments can be made to an accuracy of 1\°C. only, but where masses can
be measured easily to ro~inr· It is clearly useless to waste time in
the determination of the masses of calorimeters and contents to this
degree when the temperature is observed to 1 10 ° in 5° or 6° C. But here
again, anything in the nature of careless measurement may lead to
large errors; a sense of proportion and the exercise of care are required.
A further example of the influence of individual measurement on a
final error will be considered from the formula used in deducing the
coefficient of the viscosity of a liquid by the method of flow through
a tube.
The formula applicable in this case is
1tR4 P
... (4)
1J =8T Q'
~ where R denotes the radius of the capillary tube, P denotes the pressure
~ difference between its ends, l denotes its length, and Q the volume of
liquid flowing per sec.
The maximum error d"IJ is in this case given by the formula
d71 = 4dR + ~ + dP + dQ _ ... (5 )
1l R l P Q
It is to be noted that an error in the measurement of R is magnified
four times on account of the occurrence of R 4 in the formula. This
example illustrates the need for very careful measurement of quantities
such as R, which, by the way they occur in the expression and in the
calculation, exercise a strong influence on the final result.
In every experiment the possible error in the result must be deter-
mined according to the foregoing principles, and it must be stated
together with the calculated result.

Errors Associated with Observations


In the first place, it is necessary to distinguish between mistakes
and errors. The term mistake will be used to denote a fault of measure-
ment or of observation which can be avoided by care on the part of
4 ADVANCED PRACTICAL PHYSICS FOR STUDENTS

the observer. Ail example is the recording of a wrong number. On the


other hand, an error may occur in the most careful observation, as
in the case of the careful use of an instrument which suffers from an
error of graduation.
The correction of mistakes is not now under discussion, although one
of the results of the training afforded by a course in practical physics
should be the avoidance of carelessness to which mistakes are due.
But training in the correction of mistakes is not peculiar to the training
of practical physics. On the other hand, the study of the nature of
errors and of their elimination is part of the subject of physics. In
the first place, types of errors will be classified as constant, systematic,
and accidental.
Constant errors are those which affect the results of a series of experi-
ments by the same amount. An example is the case of the faulty
graduation of a scale. Thus, if the value of the acceleration due to
gravity be determined by the simple pendulum, the length of which is
measured by means of a scale in which the ·intervals marked centi-
metres are all 0·99 cm., the value obtained from a series of measure-
ments would differ by a constant amount from the true value. Such
deviations are difficult to detect, for an examination of the observations
may reveal that they have been made carefully and the final result
makes clear their mutual agreement.
One reason for making physical measurements by as many different
methods as possible is for the purpose of making sure that constant
errors are eliminated. In this way it may be discovered that an error
is peculiar to one method and its source may then be traced.
Systematic errors are those which occur according to some definite
rule, such as would be the case in readings on a circular scale if the
pointer were not pivoted at the centre. These can be eliminated once
their source is detected, and the rule governing them is known.
One error which falls into these classes is worthy of special mention
on account of its special character. It is due to personal peculiarities
of the observer, and is known as the personal equation. It is, however,
rather indefinite and only approaches the character of a constant or
systematic error in the case of experienced observers in their normal
state of health. An example in which this type of error occurs is that
in which a spot of light passing a zero mark is constantly recorded as
passing slightly after the actual instant.
Inexperienced observers or observers not in a normal state make
errors of varying magnitude which should strictly be described as
mistakes.
When errors of these kinds arising from instruments, externaf con-
ditions such as temperature variation, or from personal idiosyncrasies
are eliminated it is found that there is still a margin of error which
requires a further consideration. This is due to accidental errors.
ERRORS OF OBSERVATIONS 5
From the discussion of these errors it will be evident that the elimina-
tion of them is not possible in the experiments performed in the usual
laboratory course. But it is important to have some idea of the method
of dealing with them, and in the course of this work an experiment
will be described in order that it may provide an exercise on accidental
errors (p. 390).
The source of accidental or, as they are also called, random errors
cannot be traced to any systematic or constant cause of error. They
may be defined as errors due to a cause of which the law of action is
unknown. Their character can be appreciated from the illustration of
the firing of shot at a target. Let it be supposed that the firing is from
a rifle by a 'good shot', the target being marked with a bull's-eye with
the usual concentric rings. By the term 'good shot' is to be understood
a rifleman who makes no mistakes and who has a definite known
personal equation. The result to be expected is well known. The target
will be marked by a well grouped arrangement of shots. These will
consist of a certain number near to a certain point with others grouped
round it. The group will consist of points on either side of a central
point and of others above and below it. The effect of a constant error
such as might arise from a defect in the sights, or from a steady wind
blowing across the line of fire, is to cause the shots to fall at a definite
distance to one side or other of the centre of the target. But if such
an error, as also all systematic errors, be eliminated by making due
allowances, the effect is to cause a number of shots to fall close enough
to the centre of the target to be registered as 'bulls' with a grouping
f about the centre. There is no means of avoiding these random shots,
~ for the reason that the law of action of the causes that give rise to
them is unknown. They arise as a consequence of errors in taking aim,
of small variations in the strength of the wind, and of other similar
causes.
An examination of a target at which a large number of shots have
been fired will show that the random shots lie with as many to one
side of the centre as to the other. They will also show that small
deviations from the centre are more numerous than large deviations,
and that a large deviation is very rare.
It is assumed as a result of observations of this kind that all attempts
at making measurements are associated with random fluctuations
which obey the laws that a large number of random errors are present,
that positive and negative errors of the same magnitude are equally
likely and that a small error is more likely than a large one.
Thus, the problem of determining an accurate measurement consists
in making an allowance for constant and systematic errors, and of
describing in some way the effect of accidental errors.
Suppose that a target is fired at and then the bull's-eye and other
distinguishing marks removed, nothing but the grouping of shots is
6 ADVANCED PRACTICAL PHYSICS FOR STUDENTS

to be seen. The physical problem of determining a measurement is like


that of finding the bull's-eye from the grouping. The constant and
systematic errors can be eliminated, but there still remains the arrange-
ment of shots due to accidental errors. The question is to find the
bull's-eye from this arrangement and the answer to the question is that
the most likely position is at a certain spot and that the way the shots
fell indicates the reliance to be placed upon this determination. Some
convention is adopted for the expression of this answer, which will
now be studied. In the first place, there are theoretical considerations
which help us in studying a law of distribution of these random errors.
But any development of a theory must rest upon certain hypotheses
which agree closely with the conditions under which the errors occur
and which are of as simple a character as possible.
A derivation by Hagen in 1837 of a law of errors known as the
normal law, or the Gaussian law, rests upon the assumption that the
random error in any measurement is the sum of an infinitely large
number of small errors equally likely to be positive or negative. The
hypothesis of a very large number is open to criticism, since it must
always be applied to a finite number of observations; but the result
justifies it as a very good approximation.
Let it be supposed that in a series of observations the number of
times the errors have values lying between x and x+dx is dN . This
number is dependent upon the value of the error and it is possible
to write
dN =f(x) dx. . .. (6)
This means that the number is put equal to an average ordinate f(x)
multiplied by the range of the error.
y

0 AB x
I
Fro. 1.

If a graph be drawn of N as a function of x, the number of errors


lying between the values OA and OB is represented by the shaded area,
andf(x) is the average ordinate in the range AB. The curve obtained
ERRORS OF OBSERVATIONS 7
in this way is known as the curve of frequency. The determination of
the law of error means the determination of the form ofj(x) and Hagen's
argument leads to the value
2 2
f(x) = Ae-h x , ••• (7)

where A and hare constants.


Thus, equ11tion (6) is
... (8)
In any case, all the errors lie between 0 and co on the positive and
negative sides, so that the total number of errors is

... (9)

for the value of the integral is v'n-.


h
dN h 2 2
Thus, - = ~ e-hx dx. . .. (10)
No v'n-
This is the fraction of the total number of errors lying between the
limits x and x+dx and, for the sake of brevity, it is described as the
probability of the error x.
The graph of the error function:
h 2 2
y = v'~ e- h x ••. (11)

is shown in Fig. 2.
It appears from the graph that the probability of zero error is a
maximum and that the probability falls off rapidly with the magnitude
of the error. There is some probability of very large errors occurring
but it is small. This is a point which seems to be at variance with
experience, for in a physical measurement it would seem to be quite
impossible to incur an error beyond some finite value. Thus, in
measuring a length of 10 cm. it seems absurd to suggest that there is
any probability of recording 20 cm. as an observed value. It will,
however, be noted that the probability curve falls rapidly to very low
values, and the curve may be regarded as a close description of the
facts of experience. This has been tested in many ways by drawing
frequency curves. If a series of observations results in the determina-
tion of a value for a certain quantity, it may be assumed for the present
purpose that the arithmetic mean is the most accurate value. This
assumption is justified when a very large number of observations is
made and the law of error is the normal law. The values determined
8 ADVANCED PRACTICAL PHYSICS FOR STUDENTS

should then be subtracted from the value of the arithmetic mean and
the deviations regarded as errors.
Let a graph be drawn with the deviations as abscissae marking a
scale in some convenient unit. Let an ordinate be drawn midway
between 0 and 1 to represent the number of observations with devia-
tions lying between these limits, and r epeat this procedure for the
intervals 1 to 2, and so on. If the tops of these ordinates be joined,
a graph will be obtained consisting of a broken line with a maximum

Fm. 2

close to the interval 0 to 1, and as the number increases this interval


will be the position of the maximum and the broken li:qe graph will
tend towards a curve of a standard shape, whatever be the nature of
~he measurements, provided that the conditions of normal errors apply.
This, at any rate, occurs in a very large number of cases encountered
in physics.
The standard shape is that of the curve of errors (11), and experi-
ments of this kind may be regarded as the experimental verification
of the theoretical basis upon which the derivation of the equation is
founded. An experiment to be described later may be regarded as a
verification of this character (p. 390).
Other error distributions than that corresponding to the normal law
are possible, but the normal law usually applies when the observations
are made with equal care under equally favourable conditions, and it
is the only distribution to be considered here.

The Estimation of Errors


In the equation of the curve of error (11) the constant h is charac-
teristic. If a large number of observations has been made and the
deviations (x) from the arithmetic mean have been plotted, the
accuracy of the result can be judged from the way in which the curve
rises to a maximu~ and it can be expressed quantitatively by means
ERRORS OF OB SE RV .A.TIONS 9
of the constant h appropriate to the curve. In practice the accuracy
of a set of observations is not determined directly by estimating h, but
by means of other quantities more suitable from the practical point
of view. It will be seen that these depend upon h.

The Average Error


This quantity will be denoted by 1), and is the arithmetic mean of
all the errors neglecting their sign; the arithmetic mean of all the errors
taking account of their sign, in the case of a normal distribution, is zero.
h 2 2
The number of observations having an error x is Noy; e-h x dx,

. . Noh 2 2
and the sum of the errors of magmtude x is y'; x e-h x dx. Thus, the
sum of all the errors, when the sign of x is neglected, is twice this
quantity integrated from 0 to oo. The average error is then obtained
by division by N 0 • After evaluation of the integral it is found that
2h roo 2 2 1
1l = y';j x e-h x dx = y;h· ... (12)
0

The Root-Mean-Square Error


Another important quantity is the average of the squares of the
errors from which, by taking the square root, the root-mean-square
error is obtained. This is sometimes described as the mean square error,
or standard deviation, and is denoted by µ. It is evidently given by

µ2 h Joo x2e-hx
= ----= 2 2
dx= - 1 2'
v'n: -00 2h
1
or µ = ---· ... (13)
v'2h
The Probable Error
Finally, an expression for the probable error is often used. This is
the value of x such that half the total deviations lie below it and half
above it. The value is denoted by r, and this definition is expressed
by the equation

2
-1 = - h
y'; - r
e-hx J'
2 2 dx
'
... (14)

which means that half the errors lie between the values x = -rand
X= +r.
From this equation it may be deduced that
r = 0·4769/h. ...(15)
These quantities may therefore be regarded as a measure of the accuracy
of a set of observations.
10 ADV AN CED PRACTICAL PHYSICS FOR STUDENTS

The Practical Determination of Error


In making a record of the accuracy of a set of observations it must
be noted that the number of individual measurements is finite and
that estimates both of the magnitude of the quantity and of the
accuracy of the determination are required from this finite number. It
might be suggested that the best frequency curve possible should be
drawn from the measurements made, and that the value of the maxi-
mum should be taken as the best value while the accuracy could be
judged from the spread of the curve. The value of h might be deter-
mined from the curve, and its value would then serve as an indication
of accuracy. As a record of accuracy, it would be possible to introduce
values of the average error, the root-mean-square error, or the probable
error which, as we have seen, are all connected with h.
This graphical method is inconvenient, and it would be inaccurate
in practice. The procedure adopted is to determine the arithmetic
mean of the results and to assume that it is the best estimate of the
quantity required. This is an assumption that has been accepted as
an axiom, and it means that the arithmetic mean is regarded as the
best representative of equally trustworthy results. By subtracting the
arithmetic mean from each of the values determined, the deviations
or residuals are obtained. These may be positive or negative, and the
algebraic sum is zero.
The next step is to determine the value of the root mean square of
the residuals.
In order to derive an exact description of the error we require an
infinite number of values. Such a quantity as the probable error in
the case of an infinite number of values is then a characteristic of the
conditions in which the random errors occur. It is not a quantity
dependent upon the number of observations. The calculation of the
root mean square would be made most simply by means of the formula

µ = ±J~:2, ... (16)

where x denotes the value of a residual and n is the number of deter-


minations. When the number is small, µ will depend on n and a better
approximation to the root mean square as representing the conditions
of the experiment is provided by Bessel's formula

µ = ±Jvn~nx~ 1).
. .. (17)

The two formulae become the same for large values of n. Other formulae
can be used for the estimation ofµ, but Bessel's formula is usually the
most accurate. This quantity, µ, as we have seen, is described as the
root-mean-square error or mean square deviation.
ERRORS OF OBSERVATIONS 11
From equations (13) and (15) µ is related to the probable error by
means of the relation
r = ± 0·6745 µ. . .. (18)
From the definition of the probable error this quantity denotes a small
range on either side of the average value, within which it is as likely as
not that any measurement chosen at random will lie.
The record of the numerical result of an experiment is made by
writing down the arithmetical mean, a, and by placing after it plus or
minus the probable error r, thus (a± r).
Another method for recording the accuracy of observations is that
due to Peters, and it consists in determining the average error. The
residuals are again taken to represent the errors, so that for a large
number of observations the average error is given by
""=±I:
., !xi . ... (19).
n
This is only approximately correct for small values of n, and it fails
completely in the case of one observation, since in that case 1J is zero.
The symbol !xi means the numerical value of the residual.
A better approximation to the average error is given by

1J = / I: lxl •
± .vn(n-1) ·.. (20)
The probable error may be determined from 1J for by means of the
equations (12) and (15) it follows that
r = ·± 0·8453 1l·
The conventional character of this determination of error should be
noted. It is an attempt to record the influence of accidental errors on
the result, and except in so far as the experimenter himself introduces
accidental errors, the record is intended to be independent of the
observer.
The criticism has sometimes been advanced that such a record does
not give information upon which reliance on the accuracy can be placed.
It is argued that experience and proved skill of observers and a know-
ledge of the detail and circumstances of an individual set of observations
afford better information. It would, however, be very difficult to
formulate any method for the measurement of accuracy on these
grounds, and the conventional method has at least the advantage that
it is based on considerations which attempt to record the accuracy of
the observations from a study of the observations themselves, which
thus become a permanent record of the reliance to be placed upon them.
The Rejection of Observations
When a series of values results from a succession of determinations
it may happen that one or more are markedly different from a group
12 ADVANCED PRACTICAL PHYSICS FOR STUDENTS

which lie close together. There is a strong temptation to neglect these


values in the determination of the average on the basis that something
must have occurred which has resulted in incorrect determinations.
There may be no obvious cause for this belief, and the actual reason
for neglecting the values is because they do not agree with the majority
of those obtained.
No determination must be neglected merely because of its divergence
from other similar determinations. If the experimenter is aware of any
cause which indicates that an observation has been made under circum-
stances differing from those of the rest of the group, it may be neglected;
it should in fact, be neglected, for it does not strictly belong to the
group. But any result obtained under the same conditions is required
to complete the series from which the arithmetic mean and probable
error are to be determined. The experimenter may decide to 'repeat'
the determination, but he must remember that this is not truly a case
of repetition but of addition of a new result to the series. The divergent
result must not be discarded and replaced by a n ew one which may
lie closer to the majority of results.
If the curve of frequency (fig. 2) be examined, it will be seen that
there is a finite probability of obtaining results widely divergent from
the mean value. That is to say, that on account of the existence of
random errors a divergent result will occur when every detail of the
determination has been carried out with precision on the part of the
observer.
The need to examine the question of discarding any result, except
those whose inaccuracy can be traced to a definite cause, would not
arise if it were possible to obtain a very large number of determinations.
They would all be required to give the frequency curve. The difficulty
is that in practice a finite number only is obtainable.
In fig. 3, let deviations from the mean be plotted as abscissae .
Suppose that four observations result in the determination of values
corresponding to the points A, B, A' and B'. The curve of frequency
is, of course, unknown, and in particular the average value is not
known. It is simply supposed for the purpose of illustration that the
values obtained happen to correspond to these four points. The arith-
metic mean of the results in this case would be the correct value. But
suppose the four values obtained happened to correspond to A, A',
B', C'. The arithmetic mean would no longer be correct, because the
observation C' exerts an undue influence on the result. There is nothing
incorrect about the determination which led to the value corresponding
to C'. The fault lies in the fact that the observations are too few.
It is just as if the average age of a class had been taken when most of
the older pupils were absent, the ages of the younger then exerting too
great a bias on the results. There is thus a reason for avoiding the
undue influence of C and, on account of the knowledge of the shape
ERRORS OF OBSERVATIONS 13
of the frequency curve, a rule can be stated for discarding or retaining
any particular member of a finite group of observations.
In fig. 4, a frequency curve is drawn with a wide spread for the
sake of clarity. Draw ordinates PN and P'N' for deviations ±ON.

BAoA'B' x
I
Fm. 3

The area lying under the curve and between the ordinates PN and
P'N' represents the number of observations with deviations up to and
less than ON. The area outside these ordinates under the curve
· represents the number with deviations exceeding this value. The
form of this curve is given by equation (11) and when fig. 4 is drawn

N X
Fm. 4

according to this equation the areas just mentioned give the fraction
of the number of observations with deviations less than ON and greater
than this value. All that is required theoretically for the determination
of these areas is the constant h, which can be found from the probable
error by means of equation (15). It is thus possible to calculate how
many out of a number of results should lie on one side or the other
of a particular deviation.
14 ADV AN CED PRACTICAL PHYSICS FOR STUDENTS

Suppose that ten determinations have been made and that one of
them deviates markedly from the remainder. Let this particular one
have a deviation d. The probable error is deduced from the deter-
minations and a calculation can then be made of the fraction which
should possess the deviation d or more. Suppose that the fraction is
71:\. This gives as the number out of ten determinations only t, which
means that one in ten is an undue proportion, and the inclusion of this
determination would throw too great a tendency in one direction. It is
thus justifiable to r eject this result. It may occur that more than one
result can with justification be excluded, but the most divergent should
be excluded in one step and the process then repeated neglecting this
result, and so on until all the remainder lie within the limit set by the
greatest remaining deviation.
This process is tedious without the use of tables, and a table of
values of the probability integral has been constructed which can be
used after the manner of tables of logarithms.
The probability integral is

I = :J:e-z dz. 2
. .. (21)

The area under the curve of fig. 4 lying between the ordinates PN
and P'N' is
h Jc
S= ~ 2 2
e-hx dx, . . . (22)
v'7t -c
where c = PN.
By writing z = hx
S= :J:ce-z dz. 2
. .. (23)

Suppose that the probable error, r, of a set of determinations is 2.


The value of his thus 0·4769/2 by equation (15) .
Let it be required to determine the number ofresults with a deviation
greater than 3. Thus, he= 0·4769 x 3/2 = 0·7153.
On reference to the tables it is found that the value of the integral
from zero to 0·7153 is 0·6883, so that 68·83 per cent of the results have
a deviation less than 3 and 31·l7 per cent have a greater deviation.