Physics Extended Essay

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Why

Just after I submitted the option form for my EE, I quickly created a document entitled “Why I picked Physics EE”. Tip: this may be a good idea because often we forget the reasons we do things, and later on when you’re slogging away in the lab (Science, especially Bio) or spending countless hours at the Library (History) or walking down some ulu road/park/nature reserve waving around a data logger (Geography), you may need the reminder as to why you started the whole journey in the first place.

My reasons were:

  1. “I’m a science person” (PCM)
  1. “I’m inclined towards Physics” Relatively. This basically meant that Physics came more naturally to me than my other HLs, namely Chemistry and Math. I also liked it better. The liking it better part is very VERY important for ALL EEs: If you hate the subject, its going to be even tougher than normal. If you love it, it’ll come way easier. You’ll be more interested in the topics, and the work in general will be more enjoyable.
  1. “I’m excited about it.” I don’t actually remember writing this, nor can I fathom why I felt this way. But it seems that I found the idea of experimenting on something cool like Physics (cue images of exploding things and lightning flashing) much more exciting than pouring chemicals and measuring temperature. Or doing another, more intense, Math Exploration. But once again, its a good sign if you start out excited about doing your EE. It normally means you like and are interested in that subject and exploring it further (or you’re deranged).

What

For prospective Physics EE students, here’s what you should probably know before you start out:

Topic

This is literally the bane of all IB students. Be it EE, TOK, or IAs, finding a topic is often the hardest part. And it has to be done right. Number one reason why people end up redoing their EEs from scratch in Year 6 is unviable topics.

For Physics, its tough. You need something relatively complex (more so than measuring how the angle of displacement affects the time period of a pendulum), yet simple enough that your brain won’t explode and you only have one, or at most two, variables and control everything else. Teachers can be really picky about topics, and sometimes they can change their minds, so really go through it with them thoroughly. I know friends who find out months later that their topics aren’t complex enough, that they don’t have enough to write, or that the teachers have suddenly decided that their topic is doomed.

Essentially, when choosing a topic,

  • Make sure you have Lit review (someone else like a scientist or a university or a senior has done it, or something like it, before so you know roughly what you should be doing, safety precautions, general explanations, and methodology). At the same time, you have an end in mind to be working towards and can roughly envision how your EE will flow and how to explain the data you eventually collect.
  • Real life application is important: IB markers apparently favour EEs that have real life applications to the world. For example, how your experiment can help out with global warming, or make industries more efficient, or anything. Looking cool doesn’t count.
  • Be practical. Don’t go for something that will take 10 years to build, or requires resources you don’t have. Simple and creative is best. Find one, research it well, then stick to it.
  • Start researching early. Choosing a topic can be a massive pain and its harder to think of one when you’re stressed and your mentor is pressuring you for a RQ. Also, its easier to adapt to unexpected problems if you’re well versed in the topic and have a good understanding of how changing this or that will affect it.

Data Collection

I don’t have much to say about this part to be honest. My data collection occurred over the course of one afternoon in January. In general, data collection for Physics EE isn’t a big issue, as repetitions are fast and controlling variables isn’t that difficult. You don’t have to wait for things to grow, or for things to reach a certain pH or temperature or what not. Of course, this assumes that your data turns out fine. If it messes up, then well. At least you have relatively more time to fix it (assuming you did not find a topic in March Year 6).

The truly difficult part of the Physics EE is at the start. Aside from choosing your topic, it is crucial that your experimentation is sound. AND SAFE. Often, the setup for Physics EE can be complicated, annoying, difficult to build, or really messy. Tweaking and fine tuning is to be expected. Once you know its solid and good to go, you can rapidly finish data collection and laugh (in moderation) at all those Bio people growing their plants or History people camping in NLB.

Tip: For those doing something to do with electrics/electronics, please protect yourselves like make sure the circuit ISNT TURNED ON when you touch it. Or if you need to touch live parts, USE ONE HAND SO YOU DONT DIE (or use gloves). These are firsthand tips from someone who has been zapped by 30kV.

Writing the Report

Please, for goodness sakes, find sample EEs and read them. They will open your eyes to the standards of content, explanation, and FORMATTING required. You haven’t seen anal formatting until you’ve done an EE. The seniors have it all: clear and concise explanations, awesome-looking content pages, appendices, bibliography, massive text boxes and figures to cheat on word limits, and much more. When I first started writing the EE I had no idea how to begin; looking at the seniors’ EEs gives you a good idea of what is expected.

Once you start writing, it flows surprisingly well. However, remember always that the key is communication. You are trying to communicate your findings to the examiners. Don’t use overly complicated English that they may not understand. Define technical terms. Don’t babble uselessly. Do your best to explain things, because your explanation is where your EE can really shine.

Ideally, a classmate who doesn’t even do a Physics EE should be able to understand what your EE means. I know in IB sometimes they make so much emphasis on NO PLAGIARISM that they say don’t send your work to your friends, but if you have friends you trust let them read it and point out errors. You’ll be surprised at the amount of nonsense you’ve written at 3am/in the middle of Math/during recess.

Finally, formatting. This is a major pain in the butt so don’t underestimate it. Bibliography, footnotes, standard formatting, and even making your EE look pretty take time. Like loads of time. Look at sample EEs, incorporate formatting into yours, and prepare to squint at your screen for hours on end.

Reflections

I can’t be sure what kind of impression you’ve gotten of Physics EE from what you’ve heard from your seniors, or what I’ve written up there. Looking back, I can tell you that Physics EE was tough, but surprisingly fulfilling. That’s not saying much, cos many people have probably told you that EE was tough but fulfilling. Ultimately, I have found that your EE, and in fact IB, experience is down to how you approach it, and the attitude you have. EE can be an excellent opportunity to learn what it means to research for yourself and overcome trials, and it feels amazing to hand up that sexy looking document to your mentor in Year 6. Or it can be a living hell of procrastination, lax research and hence weak topics, and falsifying data. EE, IB, even life is what you make it out to be (: Its up to you how you deal with disappointments, the commitments, the late nights, and even the successes.

I wish you all who read this all the best and God bless in your EE and IB journey; may it be even more fulfilling for you than it was for me (:

Final Reminders

Back up your computer. Please.

Don’t procrastinate about the topic. You can only start procrastinating (a little) after you collect all your SOLID data, get it approved by your teacher, and know how you’re gonna go about explaining it clearly, concisely, and awesomely.

Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. From your EE mentor, from your Physics teachers, from genius scholars in your class (even if they aren’t even doing Physics EE), from friends (my EE topic was suggested by a friend who doesn’t even take Physics).

Be nice to other subject EEs. Its funny to see them slog away at data collection, but giving them a hand in the lab or in the forest can really go a long way for these people 🙂

Daniel Koh is from the graduating batch of 2014.

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