Sample Physics IA ideas and questions

Before you look at the list, remember that personal engagement is a category in the physics IA, this essentially gives you free “bonus” points if you can relate to it. If you can’t relate to it, make something up about how you used to do something close to the topic, like if you decide to do something water related with waves you could say you used to be a swimmer and you have always pondered about how water works.
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Think of a hobby you have an interest in and see where the physics lay in your hobby. This could be musical instruments, sports, photography, computers and technology. All of these have physics behind them. Then think about what you are most curious about or even what’s something that is physics related but always overlooked? This could be the string vibrations and the wave pattern formed by a guitar string, or the amount of air that is in a basketball and its effect on the bounce of a ball. These are questions you should start thinking about, open up a new document and write down your hobby and then branch out from there. This method will ensure that you will fulfill the personal engagement criteria completely! This will help you maximize your marks to have a killer physics IA.

Now let’s get into some examples to get that brain ticking!

Liquid based:

  • How the depth of water will affect a wave
    • Changing water temperature, depth of water and distance travelled
  • Testing how sugar affects the refractive index of water
    • Changing the amount of sugar in the water, temperature of the water, depth of water
  • How does temperature affect the viscosity of fluids
    • Changing the temperature and using different fluids like water, oil. Drop an object and time how fast it takes to reach the bottom of a test tube as it goes through the liquid. Compare this to air, water etc.
  • Water rocket and the effect of pressure, temperature of the water.
  • The water discharge from a bottle or bucket with a hole in it. 
    • see how far the stream travels depending on the amount of water in the bottle, this is due to the pressure of the water.
  • Refractive index of a laser in wate, how the temperature of depth of the water will have an effect on the laser.
  • Does the depth of a swimming pool affect the maximum speed achieved by a swimmer
  • Factors that affect how fast water is heated up and cooled down, this would take into account specific heat capacity. You could even do this with different materials and try work out the specific heat capacity of each material and see how adding salt will affect the time it takes to heat up or the specific heat capacity. You can work out the energy applied by using a kettle with known wattage the how long you heat the liquid for.

Mechanical based:

  • Dropping different balls at different height, see how the material, pressure, diameter all affect how the balls bounce after being dropped.
  • Create your own truss bridge out of spaghetti and see how the bridge holds up when you change the length of the spaghetti members, the amount of reinforcing will affect the amount carried and also the different truss designs.
  • What is the relationship between the radius of a ball and its terminal velocity when falling freely through air?
  • Frequency of a pendulum swing, change the length, weight, and relate it to how you see that in movies the actors swim the pendulum to trick them.
  • Changing the weights, length of a catapult and seeing how it affects travel distance and speed.
  • Investigating a slinky and see what factors may affect it.
  • Investigating factors that affect the lift of a drone
    • Change the length of rotor blades, amount of rotor blades and shape of the rotor blades.
  • Investigating the factors that affect the flight of an elastic band
    • This can be done through changing the length, thickness, angle, strain and temperature.
  • Investigating how the height of an object will affect its travel distance/speed
    • This can be done by dropping a hot wheels car through a loop and see how the height affects its speed and what is the minimum speed to make it through the loop.
    • Dropping an object with a parachute, seeing how the height at which you drop it affects the speed, minimum height to reach terminal velocity and perhaps changing how the parachute is designed.
    • Creating an air cannon to shoot a potato or an object, see the effects of pressure, length of tubing before the projectile is shot out.
    • Nerf guns and how changing the spring inside them will affect the speed of the nerf gun. (you can buy mods with different spring strengths)
    • Nerf guns and how the angle, bullet thickness will affect the trajectory.
    • Shooting a bow and arrow and see how the tension in the bow string affects the distance travelled, speed and also the angle at which you shoot the arrow. Use video cameras and cameras to capture the data. (can also be done with a slingshot)
  • How weights at the end of a fidget spinner affects the speed it rotates.
    • Please don’t actually do this, but it will be interesting as you can speed it up using a drill
  • How the elasticity of a band will affect the speed of a record player.
    • If you still have one of these at home, this is a very interesting experiment and you will be surprised at how a subtle difference in elasticity and affect the tune of a played song.

Electrical based:

  • How the internal resistance changes in a cell due to various factors
    • This could be changing the length of time it is used, the temperature of the cell and the type of cell (they are made from many different materials)
  • How the thickness and length of a wire changes the resistance
  • Resistivity of different liquids, changing the liquid type of temperature, changing the amount of salt in water and see how it affects the conductivity of water. Remember they are inverse.
  • The efficiency behind different light sources such as LEDs, halogens and CFLs.
  • How the light affects solar panels
    • Can be done through an electrical pump and how much water it can push through
    • Changing the filters on a solar panel, such as polarising filters to see how they work and stop light from travelling in one direction.
    • You can use a massive work light if you don’t have any sun!

Oscillation and Sound:

  • Reverb time of a large hall or building
  • See how the distance between two stereo speakers will affect the sound and how it is heard. Think of a cinema and see if there are any dead spots, place a two speakers apart and find where there is superposition and where they cancel out!
  • Singing wineglass and how the depth of water affects the sound waves
    • Also change temperature
  • Singing beer bottles and how the depth of water affects the sound waves
    • Also change the temperature
  • Guitar/violin string and Mersenne’s law
    • Changing the tightness of the string and how it affects pitch
    • Seeing the effect of temperature
    • Length of the string and it’s effects

Thermal based:

  • Use any common experiment and change the temperature as one of the variables! This is the easiest to do and can produce some very surprising results!
  • Examining the temperature rise and difference of the air inside the car and outside the car on a hot day. (you will be surprised how hot car’s can get inside!)

Concluding thoughts

I strongly recommend you to look up different youtube videos for inspiration if you are very stuck, you can look at the following channels which tackle some incredible and basic science experiments and thoughts!

Veritasium = https://www.youtube.com/user/1veritasium

King of Random =  https://www.youtube.com/user/01032010814

Sick! Science = https://www.youtube.com/user/SteveSpanglerScience

Home Science = https://www.youtube.com/user/maricv84

Vsauce = https://www.youtube.com/user/Vsauce

Hope it all helps and good luck for your IA!

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