12 Physics Passion Project Ideas For High School Students
6 minute read
Physics, often described as the science that reveals the mysteries of the universe, can be especially interesting for those who are curious about the world around them. Physics has an incredible range of applications, from the smallest subatomic particles to the vast cosmic expanses, from the intricate mechanics of a clock to the power of a black hole. As a result, knowledge of physics can help with careers in engineering, astronomy, environmental science, and even finance.
In this article, we’ll discuss ideas for different physics research and passion projects high school students can take on and different ways to showcase your project.
There are many different directions you can take with your physics passion project, so take some time to think through what specific topics within physics you’re interested in. Maybe you’re more interested in physics’ applications for space exploration, or perhaps you’re more intrigued by the movements of humans or animals, or the aerodynamics of specific objects. If you find yourself in a position where you have a direction that interests you, great! You can then begin to dive deeper.
Keep in mind that some physics passion projects may require more technical skills like coding or measurement of data, whereas others may just explore theoretical concepts. The route you take is totally up to you and what you feel comfortable with, but don’t be afraid to pursue a project if you don’t currently have the technical skills for it! You can view it as an opportunity to learn new skills while also exploring a topic you’re excited about.
Learn the basics of how lasers work! After studying the basics of optical resonators, you can learn more about a particular type of laser (such as a semiconductor or helium-neon laser) and explain what makes it tick, and what its particular advantages and disadvantages are.
2. Knot theory and topology
Knot theory is a branch of mathematics that studies knots. There is a rich mathematical structure involving knots. It turns out that you cannot deform any particular knot into another knot (some knots are permanently tangled) - this is called a "topological obstruction." In this project, you would learn about topology in the context of knot theory. No formal knowledge of math is required to study knot theory!
Idea by physics research mentor Adam
3. Hijacking physics to do math for us
We use math to do a lot of things, like run computers or make predictions. We also use math to describe physical behaviors in the world. In a sense, the world around us is constantly doing "calculations" with physics. In this project, we'll figure out a way to get the world to do our math for us, either in simulation or a simple physical system. Pick an example task (e.g., measure vibration/seismic activity over time, sense changes in shape, detect humidity), and figure out how to make a reliable test without using a computer. Think about experimental design, dealing with the noisiness of the real world, and critical data analysis.
Idea by physics research mentor Sam
4. Physics of dance
Do you love dance and physics? How can you describe the art form through physics concepts? For example, how can you investigate and explain the "physics of a pirouette"?
Idea by physics research mentor Calli
5. Wait, it flies as well?
Snakes, Spiders, Squid! What do all these animals have in common? All of these animals "fly" in the loosest sense. There are species of snakes that glide, species of spiders that balloon and squid can jet out of the water! This project would look at existing literature to determine how these animals are able to "fly" and what about them makes them different from their air/land restricted siblings.
Idea by physics research mentor Theodore
6. Determining optimal manufacturing methods for airplanes
Airplane wings are made from all types of materials, but how can engineers determine the optimal material for their specific design? In order to determine the answer, we need to figure out what the connection is between the aerodynamics of the wing and the strength of the materials. In this project, students will ideally experimentally build and test multiple wing design prototypes to determine an optimal manufacturing method. This project is perfect for you if you’re interested in more hands-on work!
Idea by physics research mentor George
7. Analysis of low-thrust trajectories for space exploration
In this project, your goal would be to investigate the trade-off between thrust and specific impulse (e.g., fuel efficiency) for propulsion on different space missions. You can first perform a literature review of the relevant types and key physics of spacecraft propulsion. This work could then consider the benefits and drawbacks of various space power systems, including solar and nuclear power. Your final project outcome could include analysis of the trade-offs between required fuel mass, travel time, and other relevant factors.
Idea by physics research mentor Parker
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8. Why are geckos' feet special?
Walking on walls and ceilings isn't just a superpower from Spider-Man – geckos and even houseflies are able to go where no human can. Through experimentation and literature studies, this project investigates the nano-physical concept of "adhesion" to demonstrate why geckos have these unique abilities.
Idea by physics research mentor Parker
9. How is the James Webb Space Telescope changing astronomy?
The James Webb Space Telescope (Webb) is a infrared space telescope, launched at the end of 2021, that is currently providing us with a massive amount of new information about our galaxy thanks to its high-resolution and high-sensitivity instruments. This project would take a deep dive into the kinds of data we are getting back from the telescope and what scientists are doing with that data - leading us to discover how Webb is shifting current astronomical studies and what that means for the future of astronomy.
Idea by physics research mentor Madeline
10. Rigid body dynamics
Rigid body dynamics studies how rigid objects behave as they are acted on by forces, such as when they collide with each other. This was one of the first things Pixar had to simulate when making Toy Story and it is actually an active field of research at Disney today. In this project, you will explore the mathematical methods of rigid body dynamics and develop your own program to simulate balls bouncing off a plane. This resource from Khan Academy is a great place to start exploring rigid body systems.
Idea by physics research mentor Ina
11. Characterizing gait types of household pets
At what point does a dog's movement transition from a walk to a run? What stride length and frequency do they use when walking vs. when running? For what portion of a single gait cycle are just two limbs on the ground? Questions like these could be explored with household pets or insects from your backyard using your phone's camera, some motion tracking software, and some basic coding.
Idea by physics research mentor Brooke
12. Mountains from another dimension
Mountain ranges tend to have "fractal" surfaces; you can sometimes see these "finger-like" ridge lines splitting away from a peak and descending down. Fractals can famously have dimensions in between the usual 2 or 3 dimensions we are used to. You could use publicly available elevation data to measure the "fractal dimension" of a mountain range. Does the fractal dimension tell us something about the topography or geology of the mountain range?
Idea by physics research mentor Anoop
After you’ve done the hard work of researching and learning physics concepts, it’s also equally important to decide how you want to showcase your project. You can see that in many of the project ideas above, there is a clear topic, but how you want to present the project is open-ended. You could try to publish a research paper, create a podcast or infographic, or even create a visual representation of your concept. You’ll find that although many project ideas may feel like they should just be summarized in a paper, many actually can be showcased creatively in another way!
There are several examples of amazing physics passion projects completed by Polygence students. We encourage you to explore them for inspiration; we’ll highlight two here:
Arif’s project was a research paper on nuclear fission reactor moderators, where he looked to find the best and most feasible compounds to achieve a chain reaction with maximum efficiency.
Carl’s project was creating an online physics calculator that solves physics equations and shows the steps to arrive at the solution. The calculator is on a website where physics students can learn about complex equations and learn step by step.
In this article, we covered how to find the right physics project for you, shared a dozen ideas for physics passion projects, and discussed how to showcase your project.
If you have a passion or even just a curiosity about physics and you’re interested in pursuing a passion project, Polygence’s programs are a great place to start. You’ll be able to meet virtually one-on-one with a physics research mentor who can help you learn new concepts and brainstorm with you on ways to showcase your passion project.
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