In this blog post, Alan offers some expert advice and tips on coming up with a great IB Physics IA idea. Making sure you fully understand the IA requirements is a great place to start, along with picking a topic that really interests you.
Your physics IA is going to count for 20% of your final marks so it is crucial to get it right and to put the effort in. Before you start thinking about your research question, make sure that you understand the IA requirements. You should be familiar with the IA Physics Guide, where they are laid out in detail. Your teacher will also give you useful input and guidance. Make sure especially that you understand the importance of academic honesty. If you reference another’s work, you must include this in your citations. Your teacher may provide comments on one draft of your work but no more. Study the assessment criteria and discuss them with your teacher if you are unsure what they mean. Make sure that the material is commensurate with the level of your course (SL or HL).
I recommend looking at the IB website where some examples of assessed student work are available for you to browse. You can view the student’s own work, the examiner’s annotations, and comments here. It is a great way to understand better what constitutes a good or a bad IA, understand the criteria fully, and work out how to avoid common mistakes. Have a think about the practicals you have already carried out. Which ones did you particularly enjoy and find interesting? More importantly, what equipment is available in your school laboratory?
Which area of physics are you interested in studying and what motivates your interest? You could make links to academic curiosity, global issues like the environment (in the case of environmental physics), your hobbies, etc. So here is a breakdown of how different IA ideas may be divided by topic; it may help you to consider the different areas of the syllabus, which may be broadly organised as follows.
Don’t forget the option topics:
Ideas for IAs may also be divided up into the following types. The first three involve hands-on laboratory work. The last two don’t. Most IAs are based on the student’s own measurements but if you are confident that you know what you are doing, using a database or a simulation as a basis for your IA is possible. I’d recommend that if you are not so confident, you stick to conducting your own practical.
Now I’ve discussed the different types of IA and some examples, let’s see how you can come up with ideas of your own. You might like to brainstorm ideas with fellow students to see what ideas you can come up with and discuss with them why they may or may not be good choices. It is important for you to construct a sensible research question. You must be able to define dependent and independent variables as well as control variables for any experiment you conduct, simulation you carry out or database you analyse.
First of all, decide on an area of interest. I will give some more specific examples of IAs listed by topic. This is where your level of personal engagement will shine through. Integrate the evidence of your personal engagement in your IA. Don’t make a specific section on it. Choose your independent variable (this must be measurable and concrete). Then choose your dependent variable, again something that can be measured. Be precise. Which variables will need controlling? Can you think of any reason why this experiment might be particularly challenging? Don’t make life hard for yourself. Then try to write your research question. Here you should focus on only one independent variable.
Here are some suggestions by topic.
How does the terminal velocity of a ball bearing depend on the temperature of the fluid it falls through?
How does the spring constant of a spring depend on temperature?
How does the energy of a pumped storage system depend on the height of the drop?
How does the vibrational frequency of a cantilever depend on its mass?
How does the pressure in a fluid depend on depth?
How does the rate of evaporation of water depend on surface area?
Determine the specific heat capacity of a solid.
How does the resistance of a conductor depend on temperature?
How does the intensity of a light source vary with distance?
How does the refractive index of light in a solution depend on its concentration?
How does the fundamental frequency of a string depend on its mass per unit length?
How does the speed of sound in a solid depend on temperature?
How does the efficiency of a motor depend on its power input?
Determine the time constant of a capacitor-resistor circuit.
Investigate the relationship between the efficiency of a diode rectifier with temperature.
Determine the relationship between the emf induced in a coil and the rate of change of the flux linkage.
You get the idea! Your teacher is allowed to review one draft of your work so take their suggestions on board. Good luck!
Stuck for ideas for your Chemistry IA? Here is a list of 50 ideas that should hopefully inspire you to come up with an excellent IA of your own. Carl is a highly experienced Chemistry tutor who is available for one-to-one online tuition.