AP® Physics 1 Labs

Labs form an important part of your AP® science curriculum, and understanding experimental procedures is essential for the final exam. Throughout the year, you will be expected to do many hands-on lab experiments.

AP Physics 1 labs can be a bit challenging for students as they require a significant amount of time to conduct the experiments. Therefore, we’ve developed a list of labs, lab materials, and important information on this page to help you understand Physics 1 labs better.

Why are AP Physics 1 Labs Important?

The AP Physics 1 curriculum is geared toward helping students like you understand important physics concepts as well as the scientific evidence that supports these concepts. The AP Physics 1 course focuses on developing your conceptual understanding of physics, scientific reasoning, and quantitative skills.

To that end, the College Board® requires that AP Physics 1 teachers spend at least 25% of their instructional time doing lab investigations in the course. The lab manual published by the College Board for AP Physics 1 and AP Physics 2 classes provides 7 inquiry-based labs for students to design experiments, collect and analyze data, and refine scientific explanations in AP Physics 1. The experience of “doing science” that students receive by conducting these kinds of labs plays a crucial part in preparing them for the AP Physics 1 exam, which assesses students' science practice skills as well as their content knowledge.

AP Physics 1 Lab Materials

The equipment and materials required for AP Physics lab investigations are generally similar to those used in typical high school-level physics courses. However, access to some specialized equipment (eg, force sensors, air tracks, etc) may be useful in conducting certain investigations.

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What labs are in AP Physics 1?

The AP Physics lab manual includes 7 inquiry-based lab investigations that are aligned with the AP Physics 1 curriculum framework. However, these investigations are not mandatory and teachers may substitute other labs that are inquiry based and cover content within the curriculum framework.

The list of AP Physics 1 labs consists of the following 7 labs from the lab manual:

Lab 1: 1D and 2D Kinematics

In this lab, students design and carry out experiments involving constant or accelerated motion in one or two dimensions. After collecting data from these experiments, students will produce graphs of position and velocity as functions of time to analyze the motion of objects accelerating horizontally. Finally, students will learn to relate the initial velocity of a horizontally launched projectile to the distance it travels before hitting the ground. This lab allows students to gain experience making measurements, graphing data, and applying mathematical routines.

Lab 2: Newton’s Second Law

This investigation allows students to design and conduct an experiment to determine how an object’s acceleration is related to the mass of the object and to the force applied to the object. Upon completing the experiment, students will be able to create graphs of acceleration vs. force and acceleration vs. mass and use the data to derive the mathematical form of Newton’s second law. This lab provides students with an opportunity to create and use graphical representations of data, explain sources of error in the data, and apply mathematical routines with the data.

Lab 3: Circular Motion

In this investigation, students design an experiment which will allow them to predict a conical pendulum’s period of motion. After completing the lab, students will be able to draw a free-body diagram representing an object moving as a conical pendulum and use Newton’s second law to analyze this motion. Students will also be able to use length measurements alone to predict a conical pendulum’s period. Through this, they will gain experience making measurements, analyzing data uncertainties, and applying mathematical routines.

Lab 4: Conservation of Energy

In this lab, students design experiments to investigate the concept of conservation of energy by investigating changes in potential and kinetic energies. Upon completing the lab, students will be able to make accurate statements concerning the transfer of energy from a spring to a cart. Students will gain experience graphing data, using mathematical routines, identifying mathematical relationships between variables, and making scientific claims.

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Lab 5: Impulse and Momentum

This lab allows students to design experiments to investigate the forces and impulses associated with the interactions between carts during collisions. Moreover, students will investigate the concept of conservation of linear momentum and will be able to explain how a force is related to the change in momentum and impulse. Students will gain experience making measurements, graphing data, identifying relationships between variables, and making predictions based on scientific models.

Lab 6: Harmonic Motion

In this investigation, students will gain experience working with the motion of a pendulum and the factors that affect a pendulum’s period. After completing this lab, students will be able to create motion graphs representing a pendulum’s periodic motion and predict which properties (eg, force, acceleration, velocity) determine this motion. This lab gives students experience with creating graphs, designing experiments, identifying relationships among variables, and predicting natural phenomena based on their understanding of theories.

Lab 7: Rotational Motion

This lab allows students to investigate how an object’s physical characteristics (eg, mass, radius, shape) affect its translational and rotational speeds as it rolls to the bottom of an inclined ramp. Upon completion of this investigation, students will be able to express an object’s motion using multiple representations and calculate the object’s total energy, angular momentum, and rotational inertia. Students gain experience in collecting and analyzing experimental data, designing experiments, and diagramming experimental setups.

Now you know why labs are an essential part of AP Physics 1. The more experience you have doing labs aligned to the AP Physics 1 curriculum framework, the better prepared you will be for the AP Physics 1 exam. To get a comprehensive plan with everything you need to know about the AP Physics 1 exam, check out our AP Physics Exam Guide and our AP Physics 1 Study Guide. With these resources at your disposal, you have everything you need to reach your goals in AP Physics 1!

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