With the new year 2017 coming up soon-ish, comes some major changes made to the Unit 3/4 Physics syllabus. The new study design can be easily from VCAA here.
Overall I like the new changes made, as I felt the order of topics was a bit awkward in the old syllabus. For instance, electric fields were covered in Unit 1/2; then in Unit 3/4, magnetic field is then taught with almost no reference to electric field, which made the two topics seemed disconnected.
For this blog, I'll do a quick run-through of the new syllabus of Unit 3/4 starting from next year 2017. So if you're a year 11 student currently enjoying your holidays, or a tutor liking to catch up with the changes made, then this article is for you!
Going through this article will give you a heads up on what's coming up for physics in Year 12. Another purpose of this article is to lay out the main areas of physics that will be covered, so you'll know where to look if you need help or interested to learn more; simply search up the area of studies I've identified.
For Unit 3/4 Physics, there are 6 main area of studies:
Unit 3, AoS 1 & 2 - Electricity and Magnetism
Electricity along with magnetism is the life blood of modern technology. In this area of study we will be studying at what really causes charges to move and magnets to deflect.
We will find that many surprises awaits us in the study of electricity and magnetism; one of which is the introduction of a fundamental concept in physics called the field which explains why forces can be exerted without touching, violating common sense.
Another surprising aspect of this area of study is the important connection between electricity and magnetism; as we will see, magnetism is just a result of the flow of electricity. The reverse is true as well, motion in magnetic field will produce the flow of electricity.
This connections not only serves to unify two seemingly unrelated phenomenon into a single elegant theory, it also allows the construction of even more useful electrical and electronic devices.
As mentioned, electricity and magnetism is the life blood of modern technology, so of course we will be looking at a few applications; such as electrical meters, motors and electrical generators.
Unit 3, AoS 1 - Gravitational Fields
With the introduction of the field concept from electromagnetism, we find that there is yet another force that exhibits similar over-the-distance property of electric and magnetic forces, and that force is gravity.
Even though the study of gravity is under the AoS 1 in Unit 3 which is all about fields; I prefer to treat it separately due to gravity and electromagnetism being two different phenomenons that happened to share a lot of similarities.
Gravity despite being the most common occurring force in nature, is the most mysterious and least understood force in physics. We will see that the actual equation to evaluate gravitational force over long distances have to be replaced with Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation, which is needed to explain the motion of planets in our solar system and beyond.
What is really interesting is that which Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation looks very similar to the equation to evaluate the electric force between charges, sharing the same 'inverse-square law'. It turns out the field concept introduced for electricity and magnetism works really well for gravity too.
Is this all a coincidence? Or is gravity related to electricity and magnetism in some way? This problem still remains as one of the greatest unresolved issue in physics.
Unit 3, AoS 3 - Motion (continued)
The study of motion will pick up from where we left off at Year 11.
In Year 11 we focused on mainly 1D motion where objects move in a straight line with constant acceleration. We also looked at simple 2D problems on forces and how to add up forces vectorially.
In Year 12, we will be extending to slightly more complicated form of motion; namely uniform circular motion where objects no longer move in a straight line but orbit around a circular path at a constant speed.
How and what causes them to move around in a circle? We will address these question in this area of study.
Understanding circular motion allows us to explain a wider range of phenomenon, such as why does the Moon orbit around the Earth and why do we get thrown sideways when we're in cars that makes a sharp turn.
The study of circular motion also paves way to the study of more complicated motion beyond 1D that not only moves, it also have twist and turns in its path.
Unit 3, AoS 3 - Special Relativity
The start of 20th century is a truly remarkable time in the development of modern physics, with relativity and quantum physics being the two big pillars of modern physics.
In this area of study, we will begin the study of relativity; which to put it simply, is the study how the observation of one reference differs from another.
We will find that the two simple postulates:
As a consequence of special relativity, we will also find that in order to remain consistent with the conservation laws, it is found that mass is actually also a form of energy which is given by the equation Albert Einstein is famous for, E equals m times c squared.
If you find such consequences hard to believe, you're in good hands, relativity along with quantum physics have much mind twisting ideas that challenges and pushes our understanding of nature to the limits.
Unit 4, AoS 1 - Optics
In Unit 4, we will turn our attention away from the physics of solid objects and focus on light.
What exactly is light? Light is a very common thing around us, yet it is also one of the most mystical thing in nature. In this area of study we seek to understand what is light and how it interacts with the things around us. This area of physics is called optics.
We will find that light is actually a form of electromagnetic wave and hence exhibits wave properties, like water waves on the surface of a water and sound.
From the wave properties, it explains many of the interaction it has with matter, such as reflection and refraction. We will also examine another important way light interacts with matter, namely diffraction, where waves bend or spread upon hitting an obstacle. By examining the diffraction of light, we can prove experimentally that light is indeed a form of wave.
Optics serves many important applications around us; from the simple magnifying glass to the highly complicated optical microscope. Furthermore the study of diffraction allows us to determine what is the smallest object that can be observed by an optical microscope.
Unit 4, AoS 2 - Quantum Physics
In the study of Optics, many of light's behaviour can be explained very well by assuming light is a form of wave. But is it really a wave though?
At the start of the 20th century, a few experiments have been performed that shook the entire world of physics by demonstrating that under certain circumstances, light indeed behave as a particle, called the photon!
This clearly contradicts the assumption made in Optics that light is a form of wave. What is light then? Is it a wave, or is it a particle? Back against the wall, scientist is forced to accept that light is indeed both a wave and a particle, and this startling discovery paved way for the development of Quantum Physics, the other pillar of modern physics.
The weirdness does not end here though, we will also see elementary particles such as electron, proton and neutron which have always been assumed to be a particle also exhibit wave behaviour too!
The study of Quantum Physics will be our last stop for Year 12 physics, introducing some of the strange phenomenon and the explanations behind it, but there are much much more to be learned for any interested student to further study at a more advanced level!
In Year 12 physics there will also be a Practical Investigation that involves testing out a hypothesis, designing and performing an experiment in any of the areas studied. Of course different schools will perform experiments, but the procedure is more or less the same.
So get prepared to get your hands dirty, and get a taste of what performing an experiment is like in a more advanced setting. Not to mention, writing a practical report too, so learning how to write one properly will be really helpful!
That's pretty much what will be coming up in the new syllabus for Unit 3/4 starting next year, and I hope this blog will give you a better idea on what will be coming and where to look if you're interested to learn more!