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IB Physics IA: How to choose the PERFECT topic in under 15 minutes

I'll help you through my simple 4 step process and give you lots of IB Physics IA Ideas

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SALLY HAS WORKED WITH:

There is a free workbook to accompany this blog post.

It will help you organise your thoughts and lead you step-by-step through the process of choosing your physics IA topic.

Download Free WorkBook HERE!

(There are also 25 BRILLIANT IB Physics Ideas at the bottom of this post – scroll down for them…)


Where to Start?

You’ve been browsing IB Physics IA ideas and you’re getting frustrated. I completely understand. Today I’m going to show you the same technique for choosing your physics IA topic that I have taught to 2000+ other IB Physics students.

I published a blog post last year on my website for physics teachers. It gave a list of 16 ideas for the physics IA. Since then, I’ve received on average 17,469,973.5 emails a week (give or take a few!) from IB Students.

Here’s an example of my email inbox…

I could put thousands of emails up here to show you. It is probably better if we just get to the good stuff!

In this blog post I am going to:

  1. Lead you through a 4 step process on how to choose your perfect IB Physics IA Topic in under 15 minutes.
  2. Give you a list of excellent (and TERRIBLE) research questions
  3. Give you 25 BRILLIANT IB Physics IA ideas at the end of this blog post too.

Sound good?

Let me guess… has your teacher said this to you?

You aren’t supposed to do your IB Physics IA on a topic that someone else has done already. 

Please let me ease your concerns here…

You Don’t Have to Be Original

Every year there are around 25,000 IB Physics students and every student will submit an IA. Everybody’s IA has to be within the scope of the IB Physics syllabus. Soooooo, it is pretty much impossible to get a project that is completely original.

You will not lose IA marks if you choose to do an IA that is not completely original to you. You will lose marks if you copy one!

Let’s dive straight into my 4 simple steps to choosing your perfect IB Physics IA topic.

Step 1: Choose a General Area of Interest

Please don’t overthink this step.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Has any topic sparked my interest in recent physics lessons?
  2. Do I have any notable hobbies or passions?
  3. Have I watched any TV programmes (or YouTube videos) that have sparked my interest?

Let me give you a few examples.

Example 1

I’m nearly 40. I know – I can’t believe it either – I look so youthful!!

I still remember a lesson about geostationary satellites from school. Just because it’s funny… here’s a picture of me at school 20 years ago:

(Can you find me in the picture?)

In class, we calculated the height of a geostationary satellite and discussed the merits of using them for communication. My teacher told me that in 1950 – there were no satellites in orbit. Yet, as science progressed more satellites were being launched into this low orbit to fuel or need for communication and GPS. I became fascinated with the idea of space junk and I still am.

I mean – check this out. This is an artists impression of how the number of satellites in geostationary orbits has increased over the years. Most of this is now non-operational and complete junk!

So in this case, my general topic of interest would be:

Geostationary Satellites

Example 2

As you’ve seen above, I get around 3-4 emails a day from IB physics student asking for physics IA ideas. One student couldn’t think of ANYTHING that he’d found interesting in ANY of his physics lessons. Boy! That teacher must have been boring!

But he liked football

So in this case, his general topic of interest would be:

Football

 

Here are some interesting topics of general interest:

  • Bungee Jumping
  • Super Moons
  • Doppler effects
  • Exoplanets
  • Resonance in a wine glass
  • Depth and buoyant force
  • Pendulum damping

and so on…


At this stage, I think you should download my free workbook. You can record your general area of interest in there.

Get Your Free Workbook!


STEP 2: Choose an Easily Changeable Variable X (Independent Variable)

To get great marks in your physics IA, you need to have a focussed research question. This will be in the following format:

How does Variable X affect Variable Y?

We’ll start with Variable X, which is the independent variable that YOU change as part of your investigation. It needs to be an easily changeable variable about your topic of interest.

If you chose football, then it is easy to change the following things about a football:

  • Pressure of a football
  • Angle of kick of a football
  • Radius of a football

The following variables are easily changeable in Physics. Do any of these relate to your general topic of interest?

Choose one of these for your Variable X:

  • Mass
  • Distance
  • Angle
  • Pressure
  • Radius
  • Volume
  • Temperature
  • Height
  • Power
  • Extension
  • Time
  • Frequency
  • Intensity
  • Cross-sectional area
  • Current
  • Voltage
  • Wavelength
  • Density

Use my free workbook to write down possible variable X’s for your general area of interest.

Record Your Variables in this Free Workbook


Rookie Mistake!

Variable X needs to be something that can be measured on a scale (e.g. time, mass, length, pressure, temperature).

Don’t choose discrete properties (e.g. type of material, type of fruit, etc)

Step 3: Choose a Easily Measurable Variable Y (Dependent Variable)

Variable Y is the dependent variable that changes AS A RESULT of variable X being changed. Your Variable Y (dependent variable) should be easily measurable.

Let’s stick with the example of football.

Things that can be a easily measured about a football are:

  • Rebound height of a football
  • Range of a football
  • Terminal velocity

The following variables are easily measurable in Physics. Do any of these relate to your general topic of interest?

Choose one of these for your Variable Y:

  • Terminal velocity
  • Range of projectile
  • Rebound height
  • Velocity
  • Temperature
  • Power
  • Initial acceleration
  • Time Period
  • Time
  • Current
  • Resistance
  • Frequency

Use my free workbook to write down possible variable Y’s for your general area of interest.

More information in the Free Workbook!


Rookie Mistake!

It has to be easily measurable! (e.g. frequency, resistance, rebound height, etc). The internal energy of a gas is impossible, the time period of a fly’s wings is impossible too!)

Step 4: Write Down Your Research Question

How does…. (your variable X)… affect … (your variable Y) ?

It is as simple as this!

Write your research question down and check that it makes sense.

Football Examples

  1. How does the pressure of a football affect the rebound height after one bounce
  2. How does the angle that a football is kicked affect the range of the football?
  3. How does the radius of a football affect the terminal velocity of the football?
  4. How does the radius of a football affect the rebound height of a football after one
    bounce?
  5. How does the angle that a football is kicked affect the rebound height?

Rookie Mistake

Make sure you can predict roughly what might happen. I know that decreasing the pressure in a football will decrease the rebound height. So I’ve got a pretty good idea that this will work.

The best investigations are able to predict the mathematical relationships between the variables. This will be your challenge in the Exploration section….!

So…. you have your investigation research question, but is it any good?

Extra Tip: Focus ONLY on one Variable X

Your investigation will be great if you choose a well-focussed research question. Don’t include two or three related investigations in one lab report.

Poor Research Question:

How does the volume and radius affect the resistance of electrical putty?

This research question means that two sets of data will be required. The resulting investigation will lack the depth of analysis needed to earn high marks.

Extra Tip: Focus ONLY on related physics

Consider this research question:

How does temperature affect the coefficient of resistution of a tennis ball?

This investigation would be rubbish if it only includes two pages on the history of tennis. However, if you show an innovative method, explain the relevant background theory, and write an interesting report – you can earn full marks!

25 BRILLIANT IB Physics IA Ideas

  • How does temperature affect the spring constant of a spring?
  • How does temperature affect the speed of sound in a solid?
  • How does the cross-sectional area of a football affect the terminal velocity?
  • How does the diameter of a string effect the fundamental frequency?
  • How does sugar concentration affect the refractive index of water?
  • How does temperature affect the viscosity of fluids?
  • How does the temperature affect the range of flight of an elastic band?
  • How does the temperature affect the internal resistance of a battery?
  • How does the cross-sectional area of blades affect the lift force of a toy helicopter?
  • How does the number of coils affect the efficiency of an electric motor?
  • How does the temperature affect the efficiency of a transformer?
  • How does the magnetic field strength of magnets affect the efficiency of an electric motor?
  • How does the water content of a plank of wood affect the Young modulus?
  • How does the thickness of human hair affect the Young Modulus?
  • How does temperature of a copper wire affect the Young Modulus?
  • How does the concentration of salt in water affect the specific heart capacity?
  • How does the angle on the sail on a toy boat affect the initial acceleration?
  • How does the cross-sectional area of a sail on a toy boat affect the initial acceleration?
  • How does the cross-sectional area of a shuttle cock affect the range of projection?
  • How does temperature affect the restitution of a bouncing ball?
  • How does the cross-sectional area of a cardboard damper affect the damping coefficient of a spring in SHM?
  • How does the radius of a football affect the impulse on the football when kicked?
  • How does the mass added to an inflated balloon affect the terminal velocity of the falling balloon?
  • How does the paddle area of a waterwheel affect the efficiency of the waterwheel when converting into electrical energy?
  • How does the angle of initial release of a pendulum affect the subsequent calculation of ‘g’ from the pendulum?

Terrible IB Physics IA Ideas

  • Which is the best method to measure time?

The Y variable (time) is measurable. The X variable is not defined. How do you define what the best method is? relative uncertainty? accuracy? This investigation is much too hard.

  • How does the type of surface affect the static friction?

The Y variable is measurable (static friction). The X variable discrete (type of surface). This means that you will have to plot a bar chart, which is rubbish for IB Physics.

How Many Marks is the Perfect Research Question Worth?

The choice of your research question will have an impact of the mark you receive for the Personal Engagement section of the marking scheme

Personal Engagement is worth 2 marks out of 24. This means that Personal Engagement is worth 1.7% of your final IB Physics Mark.

Performing an investigation with a standard method and standard analysis but in a thoughtful way usually earns one mark for Personal Engagement. So, you could choose a very standard investigation (with no imagination at all!) and only be penalised by one mark.

By spending days agonising over the perfect IA Topic, you are really only chasing 0.8% of your final IB Physics mark.

Don’t waste lots of time and effort searching for an IA topic – it is only worth 0.8% of your final mark – at most.

Also, Personal Engagement does NOT only asses the quality of the research question; it looks at the flow and engagement throughout the report and is assessed holistically.

Want Full Marks?

Full mark in Personal Engagement is only awarded when a student demonstrates:

  • Independent thinking, initiative or creativity
  • Personal significance, interest and curiosity relating to the research question
  • Personal input in the design or implementation of the investigation

Only the most insightful and thoughtful investigations get top marks in Personal Engagement. If you show a thorough and detailed analysis, a deep understanding of the issues, and a dedication to quality scientific work – then you can expect those full marks!

Lesson Learned: If you are agonising over a topic – don’t bother. Choose something quickly.

DON’T MAKE THIS MISTAKE!!!!

Do not write a sub-title in your investigation called “Personal Engagement” and then write a comment like this:

Examiners HATE you writing artificial comments about your interests. If you use words like ‘fascinated’ and ‘passionate’ – the examiner will likely give you zero marks.

The examiner will mark Personal Engagement holistically, which means it assessed throughout the report – not just in a section with the heading Personal Engagement.

Conclusion

I know that finding a good Physics IA topic is difficult, but my 4-Step Plan detailed above will show you how quick and simple it can actually be.

Just remember that your research question needs to be focussed and in the form of:

How does…. (your variable X)… affect … (your variable Y) ?

  • Variable X is the independent variable and should be easily changeable
  • Variable Y is the dependent variable and should be easily measurable.

You need to have a rough idea of what might happen. It would be even better if you knew if they variables were directly proportional, indirectly proportional, etc.

Don’t worry if you’ve chosen the same topic as someone else. If you’re stuck – choose from one of the topics above!

Finally, don’t make the same mistake that so many IB Physics students have made… don’t add a sub-title section “Personal Engagement.” PLEASE DON’T!!!

Have you chosen your IA topic? Tell me what you’re doing in the comments section below

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