1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Long term physics project?

  1. Dec 11, 2012 #1
    Hi all. Next year for school, we have a huge, year-long research project. I'm really excited, but I'm not really sure what I should do yet... It can be on pretty much anything (and I'm doing it on something physics-related, hopefully), as long as the teachers approve it. It should be a long-term project that is manageable for a 16 year old who has a year to do it. Does anybody have any suggestions?


    PS. Think of the project as a tiny version of a thesis :)
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 11, 2012 #2
    I have been facing a similar problem. I have found that the projects available to you are dependent on several things. One of the first things that you should think of is what are you particularly interested in. Are you interested in mechanics, EM, particle physics, or any of the other physics subcategories? Depending on the one you choose the projects available you may be more or less difficult.

    Most high school physics experiments are relatively simple, such as predicting the path of a projectile. Most projects that would let you study more intricate physics usually require access to uncommon materials which are very expensive. Sometimes it is possible to scavenge these parts from surplus stores, or you might be able to find some old parts that your school has lying around.

    Another factor is your previous knowledge. If you are someone who wants to learn something from your project then most possibilities are open to you. If you have to do a lot of work on the project you might want to choose one on a subject that you already have knowledge of. Besides knowledge of physics you will also need knowledge of math for pretty much any project you choose. Again, a project on advanced physics will require more knowledge than easier projects. Even though you have a year to work on it I don't think that you want to spend a long time studying the physics or math necessary for it. If you do run into some new physics or math you might be able to briefly study the required physics/math from a site like khan academy.

    If you are not able to do a project directly related to physics then there are some projects that can prepare you for more advanced physics projects in the future. Some of the people that I have talked to have recommended doing projects with programing, such as doing something with an Arduino. This would allow you to be ready for future projects.

    Just remember that you will have to spend a year working on it so you should probably pick a project that you will enjoy working on. If you do well there are several science fairs outside of school that you can enter your project into and possibly win scholarships. Even if you don't do well there are several projects that you can continue to use and enjoy even after the science fair, especially if you are deeply interested in physics.

    This is all of the advice I have for now. I am sure that there are others on this site that have valuable advice. Like I said, I am facing a similar problem so I am very interested in what they have to say.
  4. Dec 11, 2012 #3
    After reading some of your other post I see that you are interested in some of the more difficult projects. When starting my search for a project I to was possessed to build a particle accelerator, similarly to you. This would be an extremely difficult project and I assume that you have already been told time and again that this is unrealistic.

    Before I dash your hopes any more I will say this, although improbable, it is possible. Although you will not be able to build a particle accelerator like the LHC or Tevetron, there are several smaller versions that are, under the right circumstances, possible for you.

    The most basic accelerator would be a cathode. These are used to accelerate electrons to low energies and are found in old T.V.s. Even this, though, requires a vacuum, which is reasonably hard for a high schooler to obtain.

    The second is a Van DeGraff accelerator. This is built similarly to a normal Van DeGraff generator, except that it uses the built up charge to accelerate particles. This also requires a high vacuum, as well as an extremely high voltage.

    The third type of accelerator that I have come across is the cyclotron. Probably the most popular of the DIY accelerators, it uses magnets of alternating charge to accelerate electrons in a circle until they are aimed into the target. Online there are several articles about people who have made these on their own using parts that they have managed to scavenge from all sorts of unusual places, sometimes going from door to door looking for the one piece that they are missing. Again, this needs a high vacuum, high voltage, and many uncommon materials.

    Although these are difficult to make you may be able to make them if you have the right resources and connections. A couple of years ago there was an article about a seventeen year old boy who made a fusion reactor, albeit he went to a school that shared a campus with a college and worked with the professors there. Actually, I think I saw some of his posts on this site once, you might be able to find some advice in his posts.

    From your other posts it sounds like you are interested in teaching yourself physics. The Dover series is cheep and give lots of good information on a wide variety of subjects. Some of the information may be outdated but it is still very useful if you are trying to teach yourself. They do require a previous knowledge of calculus and differential equations, but many of the math concepts can be picked up from the book while learning the physics.

    So accelerators are an option, albeit a highly unlikely one. Do not start one if you do not have access to the materials, do not have enough time, or do not have the guidance. I do not know your specific circumstances, but would discourage this if you do not have one or more of the things mentioned above. Again, I would like to hear what others have to say about this.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook