Physics

Physics is the fundamental science which studies how objects in the physical world behave and interact, encompassing everything from sub-atomic particles to the largest structures in the universe. Its amazing analytical and predictive power underpins almost all the technologies which enable our modern way of life. As well as being a rigorous and intellectually satisfying subject in its own right, physics is a gateway to a wide range of technology–based university courses and careers. Girls who enjoy the theoretical aspects of physics may wish to study it – or a related field, such as astrophysics or materials science – at university. Many Tormead girls who have taken A Level Physics have gone on to study engineering and related subjects at university, which can lead to a wide range of professional careers in industry, management, business and project delivery. Others have gone on to study unrelated fields such music, archaeology, animation or medicine. Those who have studied physics at higher level are valued by universities and employers because they have demonstrated academic rigour and have developed robust analytical, problem-solving and mathematical modelling skills.

Physics - Lower School

Physics is taught as a separate subject by specialist teachers from the start of Year 7. Our intention is to give all girls, whatever their previous experience of science, a sure foundation in measurement, experimental techniques and the correct use of units, as well as instill in them the confidence to apply methods they have learnt in mathematics to problems in physics. In Years 7 to 9, girls study introductory topics within:

• Forces & Motion
• Electricity
• Waves
• Energy
• Solids, liquids & gases
• Magnetism.

Physics - IGCSE

The Edexcel IGCSE Physics syllabus helps girls to understand the technological world in which they live and to take an informed interest in scientific developments. It is an excellent preparation for studying science subjects at higher levels. During the IGCSE, girls learn about the basic principles of physics through a mix of theoretical and practical studies. They gain an understanding of how physics is practised, as well as developing problem-solving skills by applying mathematical techniques, such as the use of graphs and simple algebra. Physics topics studied are:

  • Forces and motion – motion, forces and momentum
  • Electricity – static electricity, electric circuits and mains electricity
  • Waves – wave theory, sound, light and the electromagnetic spectrum
  • Energy resources and energy transfers – work, energy, power and electricity generation
  • Solids, liquids and gases – changes of state, pressure and gas laws
  • Magnetism and electromagnetism – magnets, electromagnetism, motors, generators and transformers
  • Nuclear Physics – radioactivity, fission, fusion and nuclear power
  • Astrophysics – orbits, stellar evolution, cosmology

The course is examined by two papers consisting of multiple choice, short answer and structured questions, which are taken at the end of Year 11. Questions about practical work are included in these papers.

IGCSE Physics Specification (2020 onwards)

A Level Physics

In the A Level Physics course girls develop the higher-order analysis, thinking and mathematical modelling skills necessary to frame and solve physical problems. They gain an appreciation of how scientific theories need to explain the available evidence and are revised in the light of new evidence. A wide range of practical experimental techniques are learned, as well as how to quantify the errors and uncertainties inherent in them. Girls also develop their ability to write clear, concise, coherent and logical answers to questions.

The course contains the following topics:
• Uncertainties in measurement
• Particle and subatomic physics
• Quantum physics
• Forces and momentum
• Materials
• Motion and projectiles
• Wave properties and optics
• DC and AC electricity
• Gravitational and electric fields
• Circular motion
• Oscillating systems (vibrations)
• Electromagnetism
• Thermal physics and behaviour of gases
• Nuclear physics
• Turning point in physics (including relativity).

Some of the above topics, such as particle physics, quantum physics, materials and projectiles, are studied for the first time at A Level. Other topics which have been introduced at IGCSE, such as forces, DC electricity and nuclear physics, are explored in a wider variety of contexts and applications, as well as being treated in a more quantitative way.

AQA A Level Physics specification (for 2020 onwards)

Physics Enrichment

Visits

The Physics Department leads a number of visits each year including:

  • Year 10 – ‘Science Live’ lectures by eminent scientists (run jointly with other science departments)
  • Year 10 – Thorpe park trip, including a’Physics of theme parks’ talk
  • Year 11 – Astrophysics, Engineering and college tour in Cambridge
  • Year 12 Physicists – ‘Inspirational Physics’ afternoon of lectures at the University of Surrey Physics Department
  • Year 12 Physicists – Particle Physics Masterclass at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Oxfordshire
  • Year 13 Physicists – Visit to JET Nuclear Fusion Research facility at Culham

Older girls are encouraged to attend public evening physics lectures at Surrey University and the Royal Holloway, University of London.

Astronomy

Girl are encouraged to learn how to use the Tormead Observatory and to join observing sessions after school in the winter months.

Sixth Formers are given the opportunity to take GCSE Astronomy as an enrichment alongside their A Levels.

Competitions

The Physics Department encourages girls to compete in the British Physics Olympiad competitions in Years 10 to 13.

Beyond Tormead

Tormead Old Girls are welcomed back to talk to current pupils about their university course and subsequent careers in physics, science engineering and related fields.

Girls are encouraged to consider applying for Smallpeice Trust & Headstart STEM subject short taster courses at universities.

Girls considering engineering as a career and/or as a university course are encouraged to apply for a national Arkwright Sixth Form Engineering Scholarship scheme in Year 11, and are supported jointly by the Physics and Design & Technology Departments.

Useful websites (quizzes, revision, fun content)

Institute of Physics – Career Directions
University of Surrey Physics outreach
Royal Holloway (University of London) Physics Outreach
Engineering Careers
Taster courses in Physics and Engineering
Smallpeice Trust
Arkwright Engineering scholarships
GCSE Astronomy specification