I Can Help With IB Physics IA Ideas
There are 16 ideas detailed in the blog post below
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IB Ethos and Personal Engagement
In theory, I support the ethos of the IB and students should be encouraged to come up with their own investigation, based on their own interests; however, I feel strongly that a list of possible investigation titles would be useful when introducing the IB internal assessment investigation to the students.
Not every student will be able to come up with an original idea. As long as they find an investigation that sparks their imagination and can produce workable results – they shouldn’t have to agonise one their topic for weeks.
The new IB syllabus uses five criteria to assess the final report of the students individual investigation. These criteria are below, with the associated weighting:
- Personal Engagement (8%)
- Exploration (25%)
- Analysis (25%)
- Evaluation (25%)
- Communication (17%)
Whilst Personal Engagement may hold the smallest weighting, it it still important to adhere to the IB ethos and encourage your students to investigate something they are interested in.
Here’s How I’ll Help – 16 Ideas
In this post, I’m going to provide 16 actionable ideas for IB Physics IA, including advice on which variables might be good to investigate.
I will also highlight what your student’s personal engagement might be and how they will link in to the investigation.
How does the tension and diameter of a string affect the fundamental frequency?
This investigation is a pretty standard physics experiment. It will generate workable data, with nice graphs that are easy to analyse. It can be set up at the back of a lab, with no expensive equipment.
The student will have to determine which independent variable to investigate. They could choose from:
- Tension in the string
- Diameter of the string
- Mass per unit metre of the string
- Temperature of the string
Perhaps the length of the report will mean that they have to investigate more than one variable.
Student’s Personal Engagement: string instruments (guitar, violin, etc)
How does sugar concentration affect the refractive index of water?
When you take a tank containing concentrated sugar solution and gently pour on a layer of water – there will be a difference in densities of the solutions. A laser beam shone into this tank will bend, depending on the concentration of sugar solution (and hence the difference in liquid densities). The difference in densities of air is this effect that causes mirages in the desert!
A great experiment would be to vary the concentration on the sugar solution and to measure the refractive index.
The student would have to fully investigate the best method for determining the refractive index of a liquid.
Student Interests: refractometers, fizzy drinks, wine, etc
How does the voltage across the accelerating electric field affect the spacing of the diffraction pattern of the electron diffraction?
(using a Teltron Tube)
Independent Variable: Accelerating Voltage
Dependent Variable: Distance between the central point of the diffraction pattern and the 1st order maximum
This investigation is really interesting.
With careful data collection and a bit of maths, the results are linear and very pleasing. It is also possible to use the results and determine the spacing between the planes in the atomic lattice of graphite, using the de Broglie Relationship.
The error analysis in this investigation is detailed, but satisfying!
Student’s Personal Engagement: Particle Accelerators, Electron Microscopes, Wave-Particle Duality
How does temperature affect the viscosity of fluids?
Finding the viscosity of a fluid is a fairly standard sixth form experiment. You would simply use castor oil and ball-bearings of variable sizes.
The following apparatus is needed.
(It is also possible to use light sensors and a computer to measure time intervals or indeed a webcam linked to the computer to record the fall of the ball bearings.)
In theory, the viscosity of the fluid changes with temperature. A great experiment would be to plot the variation in temperature with the viscosity.
Student’s Personal Engagement: Sweet making / ketchup etc
Investigate factors that affect the flight of an elastic band
You could interpret this investigation in many ways. Firstly, you should decide what the dependent variable means to you in this.
Personally, I would look at the the range of the elastic band. This is easily measured and there are loads of independent variables that will be measurable too.
Dependent Variable: Range
With this is mind, there are lots of independent variables that can be investigated:
Possible Independent Variables:
- Temperature of elastic band;
- Angle of launch;
- Length of elastic band;
- Width of elastic band;
- Thickness of elastic band;
- Strain of the elastic band upon launch;
The list is endless.
This also means that the control variables should be carefully addressed in this investigation – making it an excellent project for differentiation of abilities.
Student’s Personal Engagement: Catapults
Investigate the Young Modulus of materials
There are different methods of measuring the Young modulus of a material.
An interesting project could be to investigate which method of finding Young Modulus is most accurate, compared to a textbook value under the same conditions.
Possible methods include:
Student’s Personal Engagement: Fishing, Suspension bridges
Investigate the factors affecting the internal resistances of cells.
Finding the internal resistant of a cell is a common and standard sixth form physics practical. However, it could be extended to look at how the internal resistance of a cell varies under certain conditions. Some of these might include:
- How does the internal resistance of a cell vary with temperature?
- How does the internal resistance of a cell vary with length of usage?
- How does the internal resistance of a cell vary with the type of cell?
Addressing these questions could take a standard sixth form investigation into an interesting and informative project.
Student’s Personal Engagement: Battery life in high tech appliances
Investigate the factors that affect fluid damping of an object in SHM
If energy is removed from a system undergoing simple harmonic motion (by friction), its amplitude will decrease. This usually follows an exponential decay pattern.
Friction due to viscosity will eventually dissipate the initial energy input to an oscillator and it will return to its position of stable equilibrium. This is called damping.
There are lots of experiments that can be done with fluid damping and the maths is super-pleasing!
You could measure the exponential decay of amplitude for an oscillating system. This will vary depending on the conditions of damping.
The independent variables chosen could be:
- Area of damping card
- Viscosity of surrounding fluid
Student’s Personal Engagement: Suspension systems
Investigate magnetic braking
Magnetic braking relies on eddy currents. It is caused when a conductor is exposed to a changing magnetic field due to relative motion of the field source (e.g. a magnet) and conductor. Eddy currents are set up in the conductor and these can act as a brake on the motion (Lenz’s Law).
This effect can be seen when a magnet is dropped down a copper pipe. Watch this really short video below:
Possible magnetic braking systems to investigate:
Magnetic Braking: Sliding Down an Incline
If you let a magnet slide down an incline on a sheet of tinfoil then the braking current can be observed when compared to a control.
Magnetic Braking: Supermagnet Pendulum
If a pendulum is allowed to oscillate between two pieces of aluminium (or other metal) the eddy currents should slow it down.
Magnetic Braking: Toy Car
Fix a neodymium iron boron magnet to the underside of a toy car with a rubber band and let it run down a wooden incline. Experiment with various materials, angles, masses, etc.
Student’s Personal Engagement: Magnetic suspension systems
Investigate factors that affect the surface tension of water
Surface tension is the reason that spiders can walk on water and we cannot!
Surface tension is defined as the amount of energy required to increase the surface area of a liquid by a unit amount.
A good investigation would be to look at how surface tension changes with concentration of soap or with temperature.
An appropriate method of determining surface tension would have to be researched first.
Student’s Personal Engagement: Pond skaters
Investigate factors affecting the lift produced by a model helicopter
The rotor blade of a helicopter forces air downward. Newton’s third law requires that the air in turn exert an equal force upward on the rotor. For a helicopter to hover, the force exerted by the rotor blade on the air must be equal to the weight of the helicopter.
It is possible to measure the lift of a model helicopter using an electronic balance. Recording the difference between the mass of the helicopter when the rotor blades are not moving and then when rotating, will allow the lift force to be calculated.
Possible factors affecting the lift could be:
- Rotor shape;
- Rotor angle;
- Rotor size;
- Number of rotor blades;
- frequency of rotation;
- Temperature of surrounding air.
Student’s Personal Engagement: Flight
How does sugar concentration affect the optical activity of a solution?
Sugar is optically active because the molecules themselves have a twist in them. When linearly polarized light passes through aa sugar solution, its direction of polarization is rotated. The angle of rotation depends on the concentration of the solution and the wavelength of the light. You could make up a solution of sugar (sucrose) and hydrolyse it using dilute acid. As the reaction proceeds, the degree of polarisation changes. The student would have to work out a suitable way of measuring the rotation of polarisation.
Possible factors could be to investigate how the angle by which the polarization plane of light is rotated in a sugar solution depends on:
- the wavelength of the light;
- the concentration of the solution;
- the layer thickness (path travelled by the light in the solution);
- the temperature of the sugar solution.
Student’s Personal Engagement: Refractometers / fizzy drinks / wine/ telescopes
Investigate the factors affecting the efficiency of a motor
The efficiency of a motor is pretty easy to determine.
The following factors could be investigated to see how they affect the efficiency:
- No. of coils;
- Radius of magnets;
- Radius of coils;
- Strength of magnets;
- Input current.
The list is endless and this could make a very interesting investigation.
Student’s Personal Engagement: Motor Sport, ecological machines
Factors affecting the efficiency of a transformer
Exam calculations often assume transformers are 100% efficient. They are not.
However, it is one of the most efficient machines because there are no moving mechanical parts in a transformer, therefore it is highly efficient. The efficiency is increased further by:
- Using thick copper wires of low resistance, to keep the resistance in wires (and resulting heat loss) to a minimum;
- Using laminated layers in the iron core to reduce the formation of eddy currents;
- Using a closed soft iron core to improve the transmission of induced magnetic flux.
A great investigation would be to investigate the numerical efficiency of a transformer and how it changes by adjusting the factors above.
Student’s Personal Engagement: Global energy transportation, electrical engineering, globalisation
Determine the width of a human hair using diffraction
When waves approach a barrier, they diffract around it. The same happens whens laser light approaches a strand of hair.
The diffraction pattern can be observed on a screen, placed some distance from the hair in a darkened room.
Simple geometry allows us to determine the width of the hair strand, b(m), through use of the following expression:
- λ is the wavelength of the laser light (which is written on the laser.)
- b is the width of the strand of hair.
- θ is the angle subtended between the screen, central maxima and the first minimum. It can be found using trigonometry.
There could be an extended and interesting investigation in this.
Student’s Personal Engagement: Hair, optics, lasers
How the voltage across two oppositely charged metal plates affects the frequency of metal-covered a ping pong ball oscillating between them
Two oppositely-charged parallel plates will produce an electric field between them.
The electric field strength, E, between the two plates can be calculated using:
Where V is the potential difference across the two plates (in Volts) and d is the distance between the two plates (in meters).
If a ping-pong ball is given a metal covering (e.g. aluminium foil) and is suspended between two parallel plates with a high potential difference across them, the ball will bounce back and forth between the plates; touching each plate in turn and collecting charge from the plate. This causes it to repel from the plate and accelerate to the other plate. The greater the potential difference across the plates, the greater the charge collected and thus the faster the frequency of oscillation.
It is expected that as the potential difference increases, the frequency of oscillation of the ping pong ball will increase.
Student’s Personal Engagement: Time, clocks, electrostatics, high voltage supplies
The Details of the Investigation
Each pupil in Higher or Standard Level Physics should complete one piece of internally assessed coursework. This will be in the form of an investigation and should take no more than 10 hours. Note that this is not 10 hours of lab work, but 10 hours to complete:
- Time spent introducing the internal assessment
- Class time to carry out experiments and ask questions;
- Time spent on consultation and feedback;
- Time spent reviewing progress and authenticity;
10 hours does not include write-up time.
It should be around 2000 words long, so it’s certainly not equal to the undertaking required for an Extended Essay. Only this one piece of practical work will be assessed. It accounts for 20% of the final mark and is internally assessed by the teacher and externally moderated by the IB. The other required practicals are not assessed directly, but will be examined.
That’s a completely different blog post…..
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