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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

!1 .

METHUEN & CO. LTD. LONDON

.

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

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

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:

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

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.

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

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

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.

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)

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)

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

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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)

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.

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