IB Physics Syllabus

IB Physics Syllabus

Complete, up-to-date and broken down by sub-topics for the IB Physics SL and IB Physics HL courses!

IB Physics Syllabus

Topic 1: Measurements & Data

This section of the IB Physics syllabus discusses the origins of quantities and their units, and how to handle data appropriately. It builds the fundamental understanding required for later topics in the IB Physics syllabus.



1.1: Measurements in Physics

(1) Fundamental and derived SI units

(2) Scientific notation and metric multipliers

(3) Significant figures

(4) Orders of magnitude

(5) Estimation

(1) Use SI units correctly in measurement, answers, and presentation of data

(2) Use scientific notation and metric multipliers

(3) Quote and compare ratios, values, and approximations to nearest order of magnitude

(4) Estimate with a correct number of significant figures

1.2: Uncertainties and errors

(1) Random and systematic errors

(2) Absolute, fractional, and percentage uncertainties

(3) Error bars

(4) Uncertainty of gradient and intercepts

(1) Explain random and systematic error identification and minimization

(2) Collect data with uncertainty

(3) Propagate uncertainty through calculations

(4) Determine uncertainty of gradients and intercepts

1.3: Vectors and scalars

(1) Vectors and scalar quantities

(2) Combination and resolution of vectors

(1) Solve vector problems graphically and algebraically

Topic 2: Mechanics

This section of the IB Physics syllabus discusses the essential mechanical properties of objects. It links to content found in many further topics of the IB Physics syllabus.



2.1: Motion

(1) Distance and displacement

(2) Speed and velocity

(3) Acceleration

(4) Motion graphs

(5) SUVAT equations

(6) Free fall and projectile motion

(7) Fluid resistance and terminal speed

(1) Determine instantaneous and average speed, velocity, and acceleration

(2) Use SUVAT equations to solve motion problems

(3) Sketch and interpret motion graphs of displacement, velocity, and acceleration

(4) Determine free fall acceleration experimentally

(5) Analyse projectile motion in x and y directions of displacement, velocity, and acceleration

(6) Qualitative description of fluid resistance on falling and projectile objects

2.2: Forces

(1) Objects as point particles

(2) Free-body diagrams

(3) Translational equilibrium

(4) Newton’s laws of motion

(5) Solid friction

(1) Represent forces as vectors

(2) Sketch and interpret free-body diagrams

(3) Describe consequence of Newton’s first law for translational equilibrium

(4) Qualitative and quantitative use of Newton’s second law

(5) Use Newton’s third law to identify force pairs

(6) Solve problems with forces

(7) Describe solid friction based on the coefficients of friction

2.3: Work, energy and power

(1) Kinetic energy

(2) Gravitational potential energy

(3) Elastic potential energy

(4) Work done as energy transfer

(5) Power as rate of energy transfer

(6) Principle of conservation of energy

(7) Efficiency

(1) Describe energy transformations as conservations of total energy

(2) Sketch and interpret force-distance graphs

(3) Determine work done with resistive forces

(4) Solve problems with power

(5) Quantitatively describe efficiency of an energy transfer

2.4: Momentum and impulse

(1) Newton’s second law is also the rate of change of momentum

(2) Impulse and force-time graphs

(3) Conservation of linear momentum

(4) Elastic collisions, inelastic collisions, and explosions

(1) Apply conservation of momentum to collisions, explosions, or water jets

(2) Quantitatively and qualitatively use Newton’s second law when mass is not constant

(3) Sketch and interpret force-time graphs

(4) Determine impulse in car safety and sports

(5) Quantitative and qualitatively compare and contrast elastic and inelastic collisions, and explosions

Topic 3: Thermal Physics

This section of the IB Physics syllabus discusses the essential thermal properties of objects. It does not link to further topics of the IB Physics syllabus.



3.1: Thermal concepts

(1) Molecular theory of solids, liquids, and gases

(2) Temperature and absolute temperature

(3) Internal energy

(4) Specific heat capacity

(5) Phase change

(6) Specific latent heat

(1) Describe temperature change in terms of internal energy

(2) Use Kelvin and Celsius temperature scales and be able to convert between them

(3) Apply calorimetry experiments to determine specific heat capacity or specific latent heat

(4) Describe phase change in terms of molecular behaviour

(5) Sketch and interpret phase change graphs

(6) Calculate energy changes with specific heat capacity and specific latent heat

3.2: Modelling a gas

(1) Pressure

(2) Ideal gas equation and laws

(3) Kinetic model of an ideal gas

(4) Mole, molar mass, and Avogadro constant

(5) Differences between real and ideal gases

(1) Solve problems with the ideal gas equation and gas laws

(2) Sketch and interpret pressure-volume, pressure-temperature, and volume- temperature graphs of an ideal gas

(3) Investigate one gas law experimentally

Topic 4: Waves

This section of the IB Physics syllabus introduces waves, their basic characteristics, and interactions with matter. It is further elaborated upon in Topic 9 of the IB Physics syllabus.



4.1: Oscillations

(1) Simple harmonic oscillation

(2) Time period, frequency, amplitude, displacement, and phase difference

(3) Conditions for simple harmonic motion

(1) Qualitatively describing the energy changes of one oscillation

(2) Sketch and interpret simple harmonic motion graphs

4.2: Travelling waves

(1) Travelling waves

(2) Wavelength, frequency, period, and wave speed

(3) Transverse and longitudinal waves

(4) The nature of electromagnetic waves

(5) The nature of sound waves

(1) Explain motion of particles in transverse and longitudinal waves

(2) Sketch and interpret displacement- distance graphs and displacement-time graphs of transverse and longitudinal waves

(3) Solve problems with wave speed, frequency, and wavelength

(4) Investigate the speed of sound experimentally

4.3: Wave characteristics

(1) Wavefronts and rays

(2) Amplitude, intensity, and the inverse square law

(3) Superposition

(4) Polarization

(1) Sketch and interpret wavefront and ray diagrams

(2) Solve problems with amplitude, intensity, and the inverse square law

(3) Sketch and interpret the superposition of pulses and waves

(4) Describe methods of polarization

(5) Sketch and interpret polarization, reflection, and transmission beams

(6) Solve problems with Malus’s law

4.4: Wave Behaviour

(1) Reflection and refraction

(2) Snell’s law, critical angle, and total internal reflection

(3) Diffraction through a single-slit and around objects

(4) Interference patterns

(5) Double-slit interference

(6) Path difference

(1) Sketch and interpret incident, reflected, and transmitted waves at boundaries

(2) Solve problems with reflection at a plane interface

(3) Solve problems with Snell’s law, critical angle, and total internal reflection

(4) Determine refractive index experimentally

(5) Qualitatively describe single-slit diffraction patterns of plane waves

(6) Quantitatively describe double-slit interference intensity patterns

4.5: Standing waves

(1) Standing waves

(2) Boundary conditions

(3) Nodes and antinodes

(1) Describe nature and formation of standing waves via superposition

(2) Compare and contrast standing and travelling waves

(3) Observe, sketch, and interpret standing wave patterns in strings and pipes

(4) Solve problems with frequency of a harmonic, and length and speed of the standing wave

Topic 5: Electricity & Magnetism

This section of the IB Physics syllabus introduces electric fields, forces, and circuits. It links to content found in Topics 10 and 11 of the IB Physics syllabus.



5.1: Electric fields

(1) Charge

(2) Electric field

(3) Coulomb’s law

(4) Electric current

(5) Direct current (DC)

(6) Potential difference

(1) Identify two forms of charge and the direction of the electrostatic force

(2) Solve problems with electric fields and Coulomb’s law

(3) Calculate work done in an electric field with Joules (J) and electronVolts (eV)

(4) Identify charge carriers in a metal

(5) Determine drift speed of charge carriers

(6) Solve problems with the drift speed equation

(7) Solve problems with current, potential difference, and charge

5.2: Heating effects of electric currents

(1) Circuit diagrams

(2) Kirchhoff’s circuit laws

(3) Heating effect of current and its consequences

(4) Resistance expressed as R = V/I

(5) Ohm’s law

(6) Resistivity

(7) Power dissipation

(1) Draw and interpret circuit diagrams

(2) Identify ohmic and non-ohmic conductors in a voltage-current graph

(3) Solve problems with potential difference, current, charge, Kirchhoff’s circuit laws, power, resistance, and resistivity

(4) Investigate combinations of resistors in parallel and series circuits

(5) Describe ideal and non-ideal ammeters and voltmeters

(6) Describe practical uses of potential divider circuits, including advantages of a potential divider over a series resistor in controlling a simple circuit

(7) Investigate factors that affect resistance experimentally

5.3: Electric cells

(1) Cells

(2) Internal resistance

(3) Secondary cells

(4) Terminal potential difference

(5) Electromotive force

(1) Investigate practical electric cells

(2) Describe discharge characteristics of a simple cell

(3) Identify current direction to recharge a cell

(4) Determine internal resistance experimentally

(5) Solve problems with emf, internal resistance, and other electrical quantities

5.4: Magnetic effects of electric currents

(1) Magnetic fields

(2) Magnetic force

(1) Determine the force on a charge in a magnetic field

(2) Determine the force on a current- carrying conductor in a magnetic field

(3) Sketch and interpret magnetic field patterns

(4) Determine magnetic field direction based on current

(5) Solve problems with magnetic forces, fields, current, and charges

Topic 6: Circular Motion & Gravitation

This section of the IB Physics syllabus expands upon content found in Topic 2 of the IB Physics syllabus. It describes the circular motion of objects and those subject to gravity. It is further linked to Topic 10 of the IB Physics syllabus.



6.1: Circular motion

(1) Period, frequency, angular displacement, and angular velocity

(2) Centripetal force

(3) Centripetal acceleration

(1) Identify sources of centripetal force such as tension, friction, gravity, electrostatic force, or magnetic force

(2) Solve problems with centripetal forces, acceleration, period, frequency, angular displacement, linear speed, and angular velocity

(3) Qualitative and quantitative description of horizontal and vertical circular motion

6.2: Newton’s law of gravitation
(1) Newton’s law of gravitation

(2) Gravitational field strength

(1) Describe relationship of gravitational force and centripetal force

(2) Apply Newton’s law of gravitation to an object in orbit around a point mass

(3) Solve problems with gravitational force, gravitational field strength, orbital speed, and orbital period

(4) Determine the resultant gravitational field strength of two masses on an object

Topic 7: Atomic, Nuclear & Particle Physics

This section of the IB Physics syllabus introduces the activity of atoms and their particles. It links to content found in Topic 12 of the IB Physics syllabus.



7.1: Discrete energy and radioactivity

(1) Discrete energy levels

(2) Transitions between energy levels

(3) Radioactive decay

(4) Fundamental forces and their properties

(5) Alpha particles, beta particles, and gamma rays

(6) Half-life

(7) Absorption characteristics of decay particles

(8) Isotopes

(9) Background radiation

(1) Describe emission and absorption spectra of common gases

(2) Solve problems with atomic spectra, specifically photon wavelengths absorbed and emitted

(3) Complete decay equations for alpha and beta decay

(4) Determine half-life of a nuclide from a decay curve

(5) Investigate half-life experimentally

7.2: Nuclear reactions

(1) Unified atomic mass unit

(2) Mass defect and nuclear binding energy

(3) Nuclear fission and nuclear fusion

(1) Solve problems with mass defect and binding energy

(2) Solve problems with energy release, nuclear fission, and nuclear fusion

(3) Sketch and interpret the curve of an average binding energy per nucleon – nucleon number graph

7.3: The structure of matter

(1) Quarks, leptons, and antiparticles

(2) Hadrons, baryons, and mesons

(3) Conservation laws of charge, baryon number, lepton number, and strangeness

(4) Nature and range of strong nuclear force, weak nuclear force, and electromagnetic force

(5) Exchange particles

(6) Feynman diagrams

(7) Confinement

(8) Higgs boson

(1) Describe the Rutherford-Geiger-Marsden experiment

(2) Apply conservation laws in particle interactions

(3) Describe protons and neutrons in terms of quarks

(4) Compare interaction strengths of fundamental forces

(5) Describe mediation of fundamental forces through exchange particles

(6) Sketch and interpret simple Feynman diagrams

(7) Describe why free quarks are not observed

Topic 8: Energy Production

This section of the IB Physics syllabus discusses energy sources and the generation of power from them. It does not link to further topics of the IB Physics syllabus.



8.1: Energy sources

(1) Specific energy and energy density of fuel sources

(2) Sankey diagrams

(3) Primary energy sources

(4) Secondary energy sources (electricity)

(5) Renewable and non-renewable energy sources

(1) Solve specific energy and energy density problems

(2) Sketch and interpret Sankey diagrams

(3) Describe basic features of fossil fuel power stations, nuclear power stations, wind generators, pumped storage hydroelectric systems, and solar power cells

(4) Solve problems of energy transformations in power generation systems

(5) Discuss safety issues and risks of nuclear power

(6) Describe differences between photovoltaic cells and solar heating panels

8.2: Thermal energy transfer

(1) Conduction, convection, and thermal radiation

(2) Black-body radiation

(3) Albedo and emissivity

(4) The solar constant

(5) The greenhouse effect

(6) Earth’s energy balance system

(1) Sketch and interpret intensity-wavelength graphs of radiating bodies at different temperatures

(2) Solve problems with the Stefan- Boltzmann law and Wien’s displacement law

(3) Describe the effect of Earth’s atmosphere on surface temperature

(4) Solve problems with albedo, emissivity, solar constant, and Earth’s average temperature

Topic 9: Wave Phenomena (HL)

This section of the IB Physics syllabus expands upon content found in Topic 4 of the IB Physics syllabus. It describes case-specific interactions of waves in greater detail.



9.1: Simple harmonic motion (Higher Level)

(1) Equation of simple harmonic motion

(2) Energy changes of simple harmonic motion

(1) Solve problems with acceleration, velocity, and displacement graphically and algebraically

(2) Describe the transfer of kinetic and potential energy during simple harmonic motion

(3) Solve problems with energy transfer graphically and algebraically

9.2: Single-slit diffraction (Higher Level)

(1) Nature of single-slit diffraction
(1) Describe effect of slit width on diffraction pattern

(2) Determine position of first interference minimum

(3) Qualitatively describe single-slit diffraction from white light and monochromatic light frequencies

9.3: Interference (Higher Level)

(1) Young’s double-slit experiment

(2) Modulation of two-slit interference patterns by one-slit diffraction

(3) Multiple slit and diffraction grating interference patterns

(4) Thin film interference

(1) Qualitatively describe two-slit interference patterns

(2) Investigate Young’s double-slit experimentally

(3) Sketch and interpret intensity graphs

(4) Solve problems with the diffraction grating equation

(5) Describe conditions for constructive and destructive interference from thin films, including phase change at interface and the effect of refractive index

(6) Solve problems with thin film interference

9.4: Resolution (Higher Level)

(1) Size of a diffracting aperture

(2) Resolution of simple monochromatic two-source systems

(1) Solve problems with the Rayleigh criterion for light from two sources at a single slit

(2) Resolvance of diffraction gratings

9.5: The Doppler effect (Higher Level)

(1) Doppler effect of sound waves

(2) Doppler effect of light waves

(1) Sketch and interpret the Doppler effect during relative motion between observers and sources

(2) Describe uses of the Doppler effect

(3) Solve problems with changed frequency or wavelength observed due to the Doppler effect to determine the velocity of the source/observer

Topic 10: Fields (HL)

This section of the IB Physics syllabus expands upon content found in Topics 5 and 6 of the IB Physics syllabus. It introduces more properties of fields and case-specific interactions with objects.



10.1: Describing fields (Higher Level)

(1) Gravitational fields

(2) Electrostatic fields

(3) Electric and gravitational potential

(4) Field lines

(5) Equipotential surfaces

(1) Represent sources of mass and charge, lines of electric and gravitational force, and field patterns with appropriate symbols

(2) Map fields with potential

(3) Describe the relation between equipotential surfaces and field lines

10.2: Fields at work (Higher Level)

(1) Potential and potential energy

(2) Potential gradient

(3) Potential difference

(4) Escape speed

(5) Orbital motion, speed, and energy

(6) Forces and inverse-square law behaviour

(1) Determine potential energy of a point mass and point charge

(2) Solve problems with potential energy

(3) Determine potential inside a charged sphere

(4) Solve problems with orbital speed and escape speed of a gravitational field

(5) Solve problems with orbital energy of charged particles and masses in circular orbital motion

(6) Solve problems with force on charges and masses in radial and uniform fields

Topic 11: Electromagnetic Induction (HL)

This section of the IB Physics syllabus expands upon content found in Topic 5 of the IB Physics syllabus. It introduces more case-specific interactions of electric and magnetic fields.



11.1: Electromagnetic induction (Higher Level)

(1) Electromotive force

(2) Magnetic flux and magnetic flux linkage

(3) Faraday’s law of induction

(4) Lenz’s law

(1) Describe production of an induced emf by changing magnetic flux in a uniform magnetic field

(2) Solving problems with magnetic flux, magnetic flux linkage, and Faraday’s law

(3) Explain Lenz’s law through the conservation of energy

11.2: Power generation and transmission (Higher Level)

(1) Alternating current (AC) generators

(2) Average power and root mean square current and voltage

(3) Transformers

(4) Diode bridges

(5) Half-wave and full-wave rectification

(1) Explain ac power generation and the impact of changing AC generator frequency

(2) Solve problems with average power of an AC circuit

(3) Solve problems with step-up and step- down transformers

(4) Describe the use of transformers in AC electrical power distribution

(5) Investigate diode bridge rectification experimentally

(6) Qualitatively describe the effect of a capacitor to a diode bridge rectification circuit

11.3: Capacitance (Higher Level)

(1) Capacitance

(2) Dielectric materials

(3) Capacitors in series and parallel

(4) Resistor-capacitor (RC) series circuits (5) Time constant

(1) Describe the effect of dielectric materials on capacitance

(2) Solve problems with parallel-plate capacitors

(3) Investigate capacitors in series and parallel circuits

(4) Determine the energy storage of a charged capacitor

(5) Describe the exponential discharge of a capacitor

(6) Solve problems with discharge of a capacitor through a fixed resistor

(7) Solve problems with the time constant of an RC circuit for charge, voltage, and current

Topic 12: Quantum & Nuclear Physics (HL)

This section of the IB Physics syllabus expands upon content found in Topic 7 of the IB Physics syllabus. It introduces more case-specific quantum and nuclear interactions.



12.1: The interaction of matter with radiation (Higher Level)
(1) Photons

(2) Photoelectric effect

(3) Matter waves

(4) Pair production and pair annihilation

(5) Quantization of angular momentum in the Bohr model for hydrogen

(6) Wave functions

(7) Heisenberg uncertainty principle of momentum and position, and energy and time

(8) Quantum tunnelling

(1) Discuss the photoelectric effect experiment, and explain which features are not explained by classical wave theory

(2) Solve photoelectric problems graphically and algebraically

(3) Discuss experimental evidence for matter waves, including in electrons

(4) State order of magnitude estimates from the uncertainty principle

12.2: Nuclear Physics (Higher Level)
(1) Rutherford scattering and nuclear radius

(2) Nuclear energy levels

(3) Neutrinos

(4) The law of radioactive decay and the decay constant

(1) Describe scattering experiments with locations of minimum intensity based on the de Broglie wavelength

(2) Explain deviations of Rutherford scattering in high energy experiments

(3) Describe experimental evidence for nuclear energy levels

(4) Solve problems with radioactive decay for arbitrary time intervals

(5) Explain the methods for measuring short and long half-lives