Learning
Physics

Why Study Physics?

Physics is a natural science based on observations, experiments, measurements and mathematical analysis with the purpose of finding quantitative explanations for phenomena occurring from the subatomic scale through to the planets, stellar systems and galaxies in the Universe. While much scientific understanding in physics has stood the test of time, many other areas continue to evolve. In undertaking this study, students develop their understanding of the roles of careful and systematic experimentation and modelling in the development of theories and laws. They undertake practical activities and apply physics principles to explain and quantify both natural and constructed phenomena.

In VCE Physics students develop a range of inquiry skills involving practical experimentation and research, analytical skills including critical and creative thinking, and communication skills. Students use scientific and cognitive skills and understanding to analyse contemporary physics-related issues and to communicate their views from an informed position.

VCE Physics provides for continuing study pathways within the discipline and leads to a range of careers. Physicists may undertake research and development in specialist areas including acoustics, astrophysics and cosmology, atmospheric physics, computational physics, education, energy research, engineering, instrumentation, lasers and photonics, medical physics, nuclear science, optics, pyrotechnics and radiography. Physicists also work in cross-disciplinary areas such as bushfire research, climate science, forensic science, geology, materials science, neuroscience and sports science.

Structure

The Study is made up of four units:

Unit 1: What ideas explain the physical world?

Unit 2: What do experiments reveal about the physical world?

Unit 3: How do fields explain motion and electricity?

Unit 4: How can two contradictory models explain both light and matter?

 

Unit 1: What ideas explain the physical world?

Ideas in physics are dynamic. As physicists explore concepts, theories evolve. Often this requires the detection, description and explanation of things that cannot be seen. In this unit students explore how physics explains phenomena, at various scales, which are not always visible to the unaided human eye. They examine some of the fundamental ideas and models used by physicists in an attempt to understand and explain the world. Students consider thermal concepts by investigating heat, probe common analogies used to explain electricity and consider the origins and formation of matter.

Students use thermodynamic principles to explain phenomena related to changes in thermal energy. They apply thermal laws when investigating energy transfers within and between systems, and assess the impact of human use of energy on the environment. Students examine the motion of electrons and explain how it can be manipulated and utilised. They explore current scientifically accepted theories that explain how matter and energy have changed since the origins of the Universe.

Students undertake quantitative investigations involving at least one independent, continuous variable.

Area of Study 1

How can thermal effects be explained?

Outcome 1

On completion of this unit the student should be able to apply thermodynamic principles to analyse, interpret and explain changes in thermal energy in selected contexts, and describe the environmental impact of human activities with reference to thermal effects and climate science concepts.

Area of Study 2

How do electric circuits work?

Outcome 2

On completion of this unit the student should be able to investigate and apply a basic DC circuit model to simple battery-operated devices and household electrical systems, apply mathematical models to analyse circuits, and describe the safe and effective use of electricity by individuals and the community.

Area of Study 3

What is matter and how is it formed?

Outcome 3

On completion of this unit the student should be able explain the origins of atoms, the nature of subatomic particles and how energy can be produced by atoms.

 

Unit 2: What do experiments reveal about the physical world?

In this unit students explore the power of experiments in developing models and theories. They investigate a variety of phenomena by making their own observations and generating questions, which in turn lead to experiments. Students make direct observations of physics phenomena and examine the ways in which phenomena that may not be directly observable can be explored through indirect observations.

In the core component of this unit students investigate the ways in which forces are involved both in moving objects and in keeping objects stationary. Students choose one of twelve options related to astrobiology, astrophysics, bioelectricity, biomechanics, electronics, flight, medical physics, nuclear energy, nuclear physics, optics, sound and sports science. The option enables students to pursue an area of interest by investigating a selected question.

Students design and undertake investigations involving at least one independent, continuous variable. A student-designed practical investigation relates to content drawn from Area of Study 1 and/or Area of Study 2 and is undertaken in Area of Study 3.

Area of Study 1

How can motion be described and explained?

Outcome 1

On completion of this unit the student should be able to investigate, analyse and mathematically model the motion of particles and bodies.

Area of Study 2

There are a number of options available for Area of Study 2

Outcome 2

Completion of this outcome is dependent on which option is selected.

Area of Study 3

Practical investigation

Outcome 3

On completion of this unit the student should be able to design and undertake an investigation of a physics question related to the scientific inquiry processes of data collection and analysis, and draw conclusions based on evidence from collected data.

 

Unit 3: How do fields explain motion and electricity?

In this unit students explore the importance of energy in explaining and describing the physical world. They examine the production of electricity and its delivery to homes. Students consider the field model as a construct that has enabled an understanding of why objects move when they are not apparently in contact with other objects. Applications of concepts related to fields include the transmission of electricity over large distances and the design and operation of particle accelerators. They explore the interactions, effects and applications of gravitational, electric and magnetic fields. Students use Newton’s laws to investigate motion in one and two dimensions, and are introduced to Einstein’s theories to explain the motion of very fast objects. They consider how developing technologies can challenge existing explanations of the physical world, requiring a review of conceptual models and theories. Students design and undertake investigations involving at least two continuous independent variables.

Area of Study 1

How do things move without contact?

Outcome 1

On completion of this unit the student should be able to analyse gravitational, electric and magnetic fields, and use these to explain the operation of motors and particle accelerators and the orbits of satellites.

Area of Study 2

How are fields used to move electrical energy?

Outcome 2

On completion of this unit the student should be able to analyse and evaluate an electricity generation and distribution system.

Area of Study 3

How fast can things go?

Outcome 3

On completion of this unit the student should be able to investigate motion and related energy transformations experimentally, analyse motion using Newton’s laws of motion in one and two dimensions, and explain the motion of objects moving at very large speeds using Einstein’s theory of special relativity.

 

Unit 4: How can two contradictory models explain both light and matter?

A complex interplay exists between theory and experiment in generating models to explain natural phenomena including light. Wave theory has classically been used to explain phenomena related to light; however, continued exploration of light and matter has revealed the particle-like properties of light. On very small scales, light and matter – which initially seem to be quite different – have been observed as having similar properties.

In this unit, students explore the use of wave and particle theories to model the properties of light and matter. They examine how the concept of the wave is used to explain the nature of light and explore its limitations in describing light behaviour. Students further investigate light by using a particle model to explain its behaviour. A wave model is also used to explain the behaviour of matter which enables students to consider the relationship between light and matter. Students learn to think beyond the concepts experienced in everyday life to study the physical world from a new perspective. Students design and undertake investigations involving at least two continuous independent variables.

Area of Study 1

How can waves explain the behaviour of light?

Outcome 1

On completion of this unit the student should be able to apply wave concepts to analyse, interpret and explain the behaviour of light.

Area of Study 2

How are light and matter similar?

Outcome 2

On completion of this unit the student should be able to provide evidence for the nature of light and matter, and analyse the data from experiments that supports this evidence.

Area of Study 3

Practical investigation

Outcome 3

On completion of this unit the student should be able to design and undertake a practical investigation related to waves or fields or motion, and present methodologies, findings and conclusions in a scientific poster.

 

Assessment

Satisfactory completion

The award of satisfactory completion for a unit is based on a decision that the student has demonstrated achievement of the set of outcomes specified for the unit. This decision will be based on the teacher’s assessment of the student’s performance on assessment tasks designated for the unit.

Levels of achievement

Units 1 and 2

Emmaus College students complete graded Assessment Tasks and Semester Examinations as part of the Assessment process for Units 1 and 2.

Units 3 and 4

The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority supervises the assessment of all students undertaking Units 3 and 4.

Percentage contributions to the study score in VCE Physics are as follows:

School-assessed Coursework Unit 3 21%
School-assessed Coursework Unit 4 19%
End-of-year examination 60%