Physics experiments for students not majoring in physics may have little meaning for those students and appear to them unconnected in any way to their majors. This affects student engagement and influences the extent to which they regard their experiences in the physics laboratory as positive. We apply a framework for the development and evaluation of experiments for nonphysics majors, which draws on the perspectives of a range of stakeholders and is designed to bring relevance and context to the fore. We report the application of the framework to a particular experiment over four semesters. The framework assisted in identifying features of laboratory work that often go unrecognized. These include the discord that can exist between the ambitions of the laboratory demonstrators and the expectations of the students; the change in the response of the students to an experiment once it moves from the trial phases to being implemented in classes that comprise several hundred students; and the impact of contextual factors, such as the quality of the laboratory environment. © 2010 IOP Publishing Ltd.