Principles of Atmospheric Measurement

University course, Penn State University, Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science, 2017

A laboratory course focused on measurement and analysis of fundamental atmospheric variables and scientific writing. The syllabus is available on the department website (archived versions at, The instructor attempted to redesign the course to use Arduinos instead of the old and temperamental National Instruments Data Acquisition Devices. After realizing early on that the students lacked the necessary technical skill, I wrote the Arduino data acquisition software for the students to use for the semester project. I also re-wrote the manuals and introductory lectures for several of the labs. Although I was officially the course TA, the instructor allowed me to lead the class, including delivering lectures, redesigning and leading laboratory experiments, developing grading standards, and grading the students’ work. Lectures were designed not only to prepare the students to safely complete the lab experiments, but also to encourage them to engage critically with the nature of measurement. This involved guided “discussions” regarding the limitations of our measurements, how they might be improved, and what this might mean for how they interpret measurements in operational or forecasting meteorology. We also discussed basic uncertainty analysis.


Course objectives

  1. Students will be able to write a scientific report that clearly describes the motivation, method, results, analysis, and implications of an experiment or research project.
  2. Students will be able to make and analyze measurements of common atmospheric variables related to temperature, water vapor, precipitation, and radiation.
  3. Students will understand the limitations (e.g., error and uncertainty) inherent with all measurements.

Course description

This course is designed to teach students 1) the principles of making and analyzing scientific measurements and 2) the fundamentals of scientific writing. Students will conduct several laboratory experiments in which they will use instruments to make measurements and then analyze the observed data. These experiments will demonstrate scientific concepts covered in the physical meteorology course sequence (e.g., Meteo 431, 436, 437). In the class lectures, students will learn the format for scientific reports. Students will conduct a set of data acquisition labs to familiarize them with the use of solid-state sensors for measuring standard meteorological variables (temperature, relative humidity, and atmospheric pressure). They will use the experience gained and the computer code developed in these exercises to perform a field measurement. The students will prepare brief scientific reports for each of the data acquisition exercises and for the field measurement. The instructor will evaluate the initial drafts of each of the reports, and then the students will use this feedback to prepare the final versions.