Technical information

Mathematical tools

There are several decent graphing programs you can use (for free!). I use Mathematica for functions and Matlab for discrete data, but everyone seems to have a different preference. Do not graph using Excel; it just always ends up looking terrible. This cheat sheet has minimal scripts for graphing in Matlab and Mathematica.


I don’t know anyone who actually likes Excel, but you probably already know how to use it and it is widely available. Excel is pretty good at parsing cut/pasted numerical data, adequate for simple mathematical operations, poor for graphing, and atrocious for curve-fitting and analysis.

Excel is part of Office 365, which is available from OIT’s software distribution point.


MATLAB has a steeper learning curve than Excel, probably because it is has command-line (rather than menu-drive) interface. It’s a little harder to get data in and out of MATLAB, but much easier to analyze it and to create high-quality graphs.

Calculation, data analysis, graphing and histogramming with MATLAB.

Grab MATLAB from OIT’s software distribution point.


Python is a very powerful, general computing language, but with great power comes (IMO) little guidance and a quite steep learning curve.

There are lots of sources of python distributions. Enthought’s is pretty straightforward.

Video tools
Fiji, aka ImageJ

A nonproprietary image analysis program developed by the NIH. Commonly used in microbiology, biophysics and research biology labs in general. Fiji is a standalone (precompiled) distribution of ImageJ.

Video conversion

ImageJ can be picky about what video formats it will read. You may need transcode video to convince ImageJ to accept it.

Video capture
Word processing

Everyone knows how to use MS Word, so that’s what you will probably end up using. Word is part of Office 365, which is available from OIT’s software distribution point.

You could also use Google docs to collaboratively write your lab report.