I've run out of steam for the moment, will get back to this next week (under development or under developed, you choose)

For most of the time, the sort of research skills required by a student studying physics are quite basic, looking up data such as the charge of an electron simply require one to type exactly that into google and you'll get the answer from a reliable source, an unreliable source for that bit of information being unlikely to be first in the list. The same information can of course be found in a book but with todays mobile devices it is often more convenient to use the internet. The only time we ask our students to do proper research is when they write their extended essay and then some struggle to find information about their given topic.

The internet is not the only source of information, libraries still exist. However it is about 20 years since I was last in a proper library so have no idea how they function today. I will either have to visit one or get someone else to write that section of the page. For the time being I will focus on the internet

Looking up facts and figures

This is a basic form of research that can be performed using a search engine such as Google (I always use Google). The order of the search results depends upon popularity of the site and how many other sites link to it, this gives a measure of reliability. Other factors include your location and personal preferences. If I search for "electron charge":

The plain number comes from Google and is, I assume, reliable. Interesting point here, it doesn't really matter if out students use a wrong value in their homework problems but they should realise that to physicists working with real problems the values are very important. I doubt that physicists at CERN google for values. I wonder what they actually use. Since the world wide web was developed by them I guess they use it.

Second in the list is Wikipedia, this is almost always top since so many people link to it. Some people don't like Wikipedia but I find it very useful. Theoretically anyone can write a page on Wikipedia but if something is incorrect someone else can tag the mistake or edit it. Eventually the information should be correct.

Wikipedia shouldn't be confused with a Wiki, this is a website created by a group of people. Wikis can be reliable or complete nonsense.

Students often have mobile devices or computers in class, this can be quite useful to look up things your not sure about, the present land speed record or Usain Bolts acceleration. They can also be used to check what the teacher has said which can be a bit annoying but keeps us on our toes. I don't mind students using mobile devices provided they are on topic but suspect they rarely are.

Explanations and second opinions

Students often leave class thinking "what was that all about" (well they do when they leave my class) and will use the internet for an alternative explanation. Here it's worth thinking a bit more about the reliability of the source.

"How a transformer works" gives a lot of results but some may not be about physics so better to use "how a transformer works physics".


This is a site where questions are answered, some of the answers are good some not so good. Some of the answers in sites like this could be completely wrong. This would probably be pointed out by the next poster but can be confusing.


In partnership with the institute of physics, must be good. Good explanations starting from basic principles.


I really like the hyperphysics website, a bit dated now but very thorough and been around a long time. Goes way beyond the syllabus but all good stuff. I often put "hyperphysics" in the search to make sure it comes high up. An alternative way is to bookmark the site then search the site for the information required.


Lots of this sort of thing on youtube. This one makes good use of animations and video which is much better than some whiteboard lectures. Pity the line of flux don't get closer when the B field increases though. If you want to search for videos then you can choose video in the browser or go straight to youtube.

Gathering opinions

We rarely ask for anyones opinion in physics, we are much more interested in facts. When looking for facts its OK to choose one reliable source but it's good to get a variety of opinions and then you need to look more carefully at the source.

Is wifi dangerous?


Good reliable British newspaper. "This is a question that comes up from time to time, and the short answer is no."


Not sure how reliable Forbes is. Starting to get interesting. "Children absorb a greater amount of microwave radiation than adults." How can that be?


But I thought they weren't dangerous. Better stick to the physics, or maybe get stuck on the physics.

The last example was an example of web surfing. I don't like the use of the word surfing to describe such activity but I can see where it comes from. You take a wave, stay with it for a while then drop it and paddle out for another one. The first example was more like fishing, throw in the line and pull out a fish. If it was that easy it wouldn't be worth doing, there's more to fishing than catching fish.

When searching for opinions you can easily force a bias on your results with the inclusion of a few key words. "Moon landing hoax" will return very different results to "moon landing".


This is my word for brainstorming on a computer. You throw out an idea and see what comes back. This could be used in the early stages of an investigation but I don't like it.

Ideas for IB physics investigations


Ignore anything that is an advert. This doesn't have any ideas for investigations.


Great stuff here, this is all reliable information but reliability isn't such an issue when brainstorming. Interestingly the second example is a toy helicopter. I wonder if the TSM student got their idea here.


Number 3! Only number 3, what's going on.

Real research

The examples so far have been fairly basic, real research isn't just about looking up information it's (according to Google) "the systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions." This isn't necessary in the day to day study of physics but is essential when writing an extended essay. It is through research that an idea becomes an essay.

Idea: How does the length of fibres on a tennis ball affect the way it serves?

Google: How does the length of fibres on a tennis ball affect the way it serves

third hit Magnus effect - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

So its called the Magnus effect

But how can I do an experiment

Google: Magnus effect experiment

But how to do this in the lab?

Google: Magnus effect experiment in the lab

Modeling the motion of a volleyball with spin

An undergraduate paper with some good ideas, might be possible to contact the author via the email given.Searches like this often turn up PhD papers that are way to advanced for our students (and me). This is even worse if you use Google scholar but this one is OK.

This is the beginning of a process that is neatly illustrated by the following flow chart by Baron and Ivers (1996) from the Florida centre for instructional technologies website.

So far we have only reached the sorting an sifting stage, next comes the difficult bits, synthesis and evaluation and this requires some understanding of the subject matter. This is something I always emphasise when students are choosing EE topics, if they don't understand it they can't write an essay about it. I have had several first drafts handed to me that are simply bits of lots of different websites cut and pasted with the occasional linking sentence. To be fair some academic papers seem like a list of citations but the clever part is linking them together.

The idea is that the information goes into your brain, is understood and put into context then used to formulate new ideas which can be evaluated with respect to the work of others.


This page is part of the section on learning skills but what are the skills involved here? I think they are mainly language skills. Firstly being able to select key words for the search. Grammar and even spelling don't matter here though, google will correct your spelling and ignore your grammar, even make suggestions if you are totally out there. The next part is being able scan the pages spotting the relevant bits. Diagrams help enormously here, I often search for images rather than text as its easier to spot the interesting pages. I almost never search in Norwegian even though I am pretty good at reading it, I just can't spot relevance quick enough.

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