Unit Planner: Energy production

Unit 12: Energy production and transfer

Start date:

End date:

Diploma assessment

When will the content be assessed?

xPaper 1
xPaper 2
Paper 3

Text book reference

Hamper SL 271- 301

Inquiry: Establishing the purpose of the unit

Transfer Goals
List here one to three big, overarching, long-term goals for this unit. Transfer goals are the major goals that ask students to “transfer”, or apply, their knowledge, skills, and concepts at the end of the unit under new/different circumstances, and on their own without scaffolding from the teacher.

  • Energy can be converted from internal energy to heat by burning fuels. Haet can be used to do work using an engine.
  • The Earth is in thermal equilibrium.

List here the key content that students will know by the end of the unit

  • Introduce the second law of thermodynamics.
  • Introduce the idea of a fuel as a source of energy.
  • Describe the operation of a nuclear power station.
  • Outline the different methods for controlled fusion.
  • Define and give examples of renewable energy.
  • Describe the heating panel and photovoltaic cell.
  • Derive the equation for the PE stored in a body of water.
  • Describe methods for converting water waves into electrical energy.
  • Derive the formula for the amount of power per unit length of a water wave
  • Define Albedo and understand its relevance in the context of the greenhouse effect.
  • Identify the factors that affect the temperature of the Earth.

List here the key skills that students will develop by the end of the unit.

  • Use Sankey diagrams to represent energy flow.
  • Use the isotope chart to deduce that fission fragments are neutron rich and therefore unstable.
  • Use understanding of the BE curve to deduce that if two small nuclei fuse then energy will be released.
  • Use knowledge of electric fields and the nuclear force to understand why nuclei must be projected towards each with high speed if they are to get close enough to fuse.
  • Use the black-body radiation curve to explain why the sun radiates visible light and the earth radiates IR.Apply simple atomic theory to understand why the atmosphere transmits most of the radiation from the Sun but absorbs radiation from the Earth.

List here the key concepts that students will understand by the end of the unit

  • Understand that the chemical energy in fuel can not be converted to work without a machine.
  • Understand that heat must be transferred from a hot body to a cold one for a heat engine to work.
  • Understand that to convert the chemical energy in a fuel into electrical energy the fuel must first be burnt then used to heat water that turns a turbine that turns a generator.
  • Understand the principle of coal and gas fired power station
  • Understand the role of neutrons in the chain reaction.
  • Understand why a chain reaction can not be achieved below the critical mass
  • Understand why neutrons need to be slowed down to achieve a chain reaction.
  • Understand how a chain reaction can be controlled by absorbing neutrons.
  • Use understanding of the BE curve to deduce that if two small nuclei fuse then energy will be released.
  • Use knowledge of electric fields and the nuclear force to understand why nuclei must be projected towards each with high speed if they are to get close enough to fuse.
  • Understand the steps in the proton-proton chain.
  • Apply knowledge of the motion of a charge in a B field to understand how a magnetic field can be used to contain a plasma.
  • Understand how the energy from the sun is formed by the fusion reaction.
  • Understand how the suns power per unit area is related to distance and orientation and why it is different at different locations on the Earth.
  • Understand the energy conversion in a hydro electric power station.
  • Understand the energy conversion in a wind turbine and derive the formula for the KE of a cylinder of air.
  • Understand how the electron energy level model of the atom explains why the different wavelengths of EM radiation interact differently with matter.
  • Understand the mechanism by which IR is absorbed by CO2.
  • Understand why, without an atmosphere the earth would be colder than it is today.
  • Understand Sankey diagrams drawn to model the greenhouse effect.
  • Understand why an increase in greenhouse gases results in increased temperature.

Examples of real world practical applications of knowledge.

  • Apply knowledge of force on a moving charge to understand how an EMF is induced in a conductor moving in a B field.
  • Discuss the pros and cons of nuclear power production.
  • One of the by products of the Uranium fission process is plutonium which can be used in nuclear weapons. This is one of the reasons Uranium was chosen over alternatives such as Thorium an alternative with many advantages.
  • Be aware of the worldwide consumption of electrical energy.

Action: teaching and learning through Inquiry

Approaches to teaching
Tick boxes to indicate pedagogical approaches used.

xSmall group work (pairs)
xHands on practical

Examples of how TOK can be introduced in this unit

  • It might be interesting to explore the difference between this topic and the rest of the course. Physics is about breaking everything down into it simplest units, but here we are going to deal with things like the weather which can't be modelled in terms of the forces on small red balls. Some people say this isn't physics.
  • There are plenty of ethical issues surrounding the production of electricity from nuclear power, on the one side it doesn't produce greenhouse gases but on the other it does produce radioactive waste. it could be interesting to get student to research the different sides of the argument and present their findings in class.
  • What are the problems associated with dumping nuclear waste into space?
  • The use of the word moderator leads to some misunderstandings. An example of the importance of language.
  • The use of Sankey diagrams to give a visual representation of the flow of a quantity such as energy.
  • The story of cold fusion is an interesting knowledge issue.
  • www.cbsnews


  • There is also an ethical dimension as to whether vast amounts of money should be spent researching something that may or may not be the answer to our energy problems. Might it be better to research alternative sources of energy.
  • What factors influence data such as "the amount of oil left in the ground"?
  • Since new oil reserves have been found global warming seems to have taken a back seat.

Examples of how NOS can be introduced in this unit.

  • In the course so far we have considered the minutest detail of the simplest things. How is this different from this topic?
  • Is this engineering or physics?
  • Technical advances lead to new discoveries that lead to technical advances.
  • Does knowing why one method of energy production is more efficient than another enable you to make better decisions about energy use, or is it enough to simply know which is most efficient without understanding why?
  • Some great nature of science in the Fusion Documentary embedded below. "There's a 50% chance of it working 20 years after we seriously fund the science".
  • The time scales mentioned in the documentary are interesting, science doesn't happen overnight.
  • The theory has been known since I was at school (40 years ago) but the technology wasn't there to test it. In the early days computers weren't quick enough to control the magnetic field that contains the plasma.
  • A bit off the syllabus but if you do the Planck's law (GeoGebra) exercise then you will see how classical physics led to an incorrect prediction of the black body spectrum. Quantum physics supplied the correct answer. From the way the course is organised it is not obvious that the black body spectrum is related to quantum mechanics.
  • Scientists like to make sure of their facts. How can we be sure of the facts when there are so many outside interests? The oil industry wants us to continue to use oil and the companies selling alternative solutions want us to invest in them. Who do we believe?

Video clips, simulations demonstrations etc.


What went well
List the portions of the unit (content, assessment, planning) that were successful

What didn’t work well
List the portions of the unit (content, assessment, planning) that were not as successful as hoped

List any notes, suggestions, or considerations for the future teaching of this unit

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