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Why study Physics?

Physics is crucial to understanding the world around us, the world inside us, and the world beyond us. It is the most basic and fundamental science. 

Physics challenges our imaginations with concepts like relativity and string theory, and it leads to great discoveries, like computers and lasers, that result in technologies which change our lives—from healing joints, to curing cancer, to developing sustainable energy solutions. 

Physicists are problem solvers. Their analytical skills make physicists versatile and adaptable so they work in interesting places.

KS4: GCSE Physics (AQA)

Most of the girls at Woodford study KS 4 Physics over three years starting in Year 9. Previous incarnations of the National Curriculum focussed on introducing, at the start of the course, easy concepts at the expense of giving students basic, fundamental skills needed to tackle more difficult problems later in the course. This often resulted with many students struggling to cope with the demands and rigour of the course later on.

So, with this new programme of study, we have chosen to start by equipping students with the necessary skills (conceptual and mathematical) to lay the foundation for all future work to come. Of these skills, the most important is the concept of vectors. This concept is delivered through the familiar topics of motion and forces and will be a theme that is followed up in more detail at A level.

Included in this concept is the idea of adding (or subtracting) vectors and resolving (finding perpendicular components of) vectors. These are very difficult ideas to acquire and master but once the students are reasonably confidents with these skills they are well equipped to tackle most problems in physics.

After tackling these difficult concepts we introduce the students to the constant acceleration equations. This is another difficult topic which requires that students become proficient at using the mathematical skill of re-arranging equations. We also walk students through the use of trigonometric ratios. These mathematical skills are particularly important when studying the next topic of projectile motion. This is an extension of the ordinary motion topic (which considers motion in one-dimension) where we consider motion in two dimensions.

After reaching this stage the topics become a lot more familiar to the students. We look at forces in more detail including explicitly stating  Newton’s three laws of motion, using all of the skills from above. We then go on to study two very important laws in physics; that of energy and momentum. These are known as conserved quantities and the students learn about the laws of conservation of energy and momentum. The treatment of energy changes is put on a more mathematical foundation by considering the concept of work done. The concept of energy is then discussed in the context of global energy issues and the effects of burning fossil fuels on the environment.

Finally we discuss waves and their properties. We start off by identifying characteristics of waves (both transverse and longitudinal) and how we measure them. We then go on to discuss how the speed of a wave is related to its frequency and wavelength and the effects this has on properties such as reflection, refraction and diffraction.

The students will then go on to study the uses to which waves can be put to including distance measurements, imaging, communications and the study of earthquakes.

Practical work underpins everything we in physics and it is the reason we know anything about anything. As such the students are required to practical work as part of their Year 9 studies, four of which are required practicals that will aid them in answering questions on the exam paper. 15% of the GCSE papers will test students ability to do practical work.

KS5: A-Level Physics (AQA)

Why Study Physics?

Physics is fundamental to our understanding of how everything works. By choosing to do Physics, you choose to study an enormously stimulating subject that also sits right at the heart of technology development. Physics today is a very rewarding and exciting field with new discoveries occurring at the frontiers of human knowledge. Its methods and insights are widely applicable and its practitioners widely sought. 

Course content

The topics covered in the first year are as follows:

  • Measurements and their errors
    • A working knowledge of the specified fundamental (base) units of measurement is vital. Likewise, practical work in the subject needs to be underpinned by an awareness of the nature of measurement errors and of their numerical treatment. The ability to carry through reasonable estimations is a skill that is required throughout the course and beyond.
  • Particles and radiation
    • In this section you are introduced both to the fundamental properties of matter, and to electromagnetic radiation and quantum phenomena. Through a study of these topics, you will become aware of the way ideas develop and evolve in physics. You will appreciate the importance of international collaboration in the development of new experiments and theories in this area of fundamental research.
  • Waves
    • GCSE studies of wave phenomena are extended through a development of knowledge of the characteristics, properties, and applications of travelling waves and stationary waves. Topics treated include refraction, diffraction, superposition and interference.
  • Mechanics and materials
    • Vectors and their treatment are introduced followed by development of your knowledge and understanding of forces, energy and momentum. The section continues with a study of materials considered in terms of their bulk properties and tensile strength.
  • Electricity
    • This section builds on and develops earlier study of these phenomena from GCSE. It provides opportunities for the development of practical skills at an early stage in the course and lays the groundwork for later study of the many electrical applications that are important to society. 

The topics covered in the second year are:

  • Further mechanics and thermal physics
    • The earlier study of mechanics is further advanced through a consideration of circular motion and simple harmonic motion (the harmonic oscillator). A further section allows the thermal properties of materials, the properties and nature of ideal gases, and the molecular kinetic theory to be studied in depth.
  • Fields and their consequences
    • The concept of field is one of the great unifying ideas in physics. The ideas of gravitation, electrostatics and magnetic field theory are developed within the topic to emphasise this unification. Many ideas from mechanics and electricity from earlier in the course support this and are further developed. Practical applications considered include: planetary and satellite orbits, capacitance and capacitors, their charge and discharge through resistors, and electromagnetic induction. These topics have considerable impact on modern society.
  • Nuclear physics
    • This section builds on the work of Particles and radiation to link the properties of the nucleus to the production of nuclear power through the characteristics of the nucleus, the properties of unstable nuclei, and the link between energy and mass. You should become aware of the physics that underpins nuclear energy production and also of the impact that it can have on society.
  • Astrophysics
    • Fundamental physical principles are applied to the study and interpretation of the Universe. You will gain deeper insight into the behaviour of objects at great distances from Earth and discover the ways in which information from these objects can be gathered. The underlying physical principles of the devices used are covered and some indication is given of the new information gained by the use of radio astronomy. The discovery of exoplanets is an example of the way in which new information is gained by astronomers.

Practicals

Physics, like all sciences, is a practical subject. Throughout the course you will carry out practical activities including:

  • investigating interference and diffraction of laser light
  • measuring acceleration due to gravity
  • investigating systems that oscillate
  • investigation of the links between temperature, volume and pressure
  • safe use of ionising radiation
  • investigating magnetic fields.

These practicals will give you the skills and confidence needed to investigate the way things behave and work. It will also ensure that if you choose to study a Physics-based subject at university, you’ll have the practical skills needed to carry out successful experiments in your degree.

Enrichment

Sixth Form Physicists attend an annual Physics conference at the Institute of Education where eminent lecturers give talks in their specialist fields and highlight new, cutting edge technologies.

Future Pathways

The list of career destinations for Physics graduates is almost endless; law, finance, media, television research, not to mention the obvious career paths to scientific research and engineering.

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