6 Fun Physics Experiments For High School Students

Physics as a science is not just about nuclear fission or fusion, or just unraveling the mysteries of the Big Bang theory! It is in things as simple as the apple falling from a tree or a school bus in motion (or even in a state of inertia or rest). 

It is thus important to teach the high schoolers, physics in their everyday routine. Also exciting is to design and demonstrate physics experiments from their everyday items.

After all, the foundational understanding of physics in their young minds should not be just a textbook view, but something they can perform on their own. 

Of course, we are here to help with a list of physics experiments you can perform with high schoolers to open their minds to the new possibilities that abound in the universe.

Physics experiments are not just another activity on your school core card. Their significance goes way beyond it and is crucial for high school students for several reasons:

  • Developing problem-solving skills:  Experiments allow students to apply their physics knowledge and develop their problem-solving abilities. They can better understand the concepts by seeing the results firsthand.
  • Enhancing critical thinking: Doing experiments encourages students to think critically, analyze data, and draw conclusions. This helps them solve complex problems and make better decisions.
  • Connecting theory and practice: Physics experiments enable students to apply their theoretical knowledge in practice and make connections between theory and reality, improving their understanding of physics concepts.
  • Stimulating creativity:  Experiments in the lab can stimulate creativity as students are encouraged to think outside the box when trying to solve problems. This encourages innovation and unique solutions.
  • Increasing confidence and interest: Experiments can help boost student confidence as they see the results of their efforts. This will also motivate them to keep exploring and developing their skills.
  • Developing observational and practical skills: Experiments require students to observe and analyze data and gain hands-on experience, which helps them develop important skills that will be useful throughout their lives.

Thus, these experiments go a long way in developing critical-thinking individuals who can connect theory with practice and change the world with a book in their hands!

1. Put together a mini Tesla coil

A Tesla coil is an electrical transformer circuit to produce high voltage and high frequency alternating current electricity.

But what if we tell you that you can make your very own mini Tesla coil in your school lab or house backyard? 

No, you don’t need expensive and hard-to-get materials to get started.  Just a little physics knowledge and being handy with old stuff and you get your very own Tesla coil!

 Material required to build the mini Tesla coil:

  1. A high-voltage transformer or power supply. You can even use a flyback transformer from an old television set. This provides the high voltage input.
  2. A primary coil is typically made of a few turns of thick copper wire or tubing. This is connected to the high-voltage input.
  3. A secondary coil is made of hundreds of turns of thin enameled wire wound around a non-conductive form like a PVC pipe. This creates a high-voltage output.
  4. A capacitor bank creates the resonant circuit with the secondary coil.
  5. A spark gap to create the high-voltage discharge.

Once you have the material in handy, the next step is to assemble them together:

  1. Wind the secondary coil with the thin wire, ensuring the turns are evenly spaced.
  2. Connect the primary coil to the high-voltage input.
  3. Add the capacitor bank and spark gap to complete the resonant circuit.
  4. Carefully tune the circuit to achieve maximum voltage output.

Working with a high school student, it is important to start with a small-scale design and low power levels. You also have to take necessary precautions like proper insulation and grounding.

The Mini Tesla coil is ready with minimum materials and effort!

2. Remove the air in a DIY Vacuum chamber

Create your very own vacuum chamber with simple, everyday stuff. Let’s put those pots and lids in the service of science!

Materials required for DIY vacuum chamber

  1. Large cooking pot or container, 
  2. A piece of polycarbonate or acrylic sheet for the lid, 
  3. Silicone gasket maker, and 
  4. Various fittings like a vacuum gauge, ball valves, and bulkhead connectors.

The next steps to start assembling:

  1. Drill the necessary holes in the pot and lid to attach the fittings.
  2. Apply a silicone gasket maker around the rim of the pot to create an airtight seal with the lid.
  3. Connect the vacuum gauge, ball valves, and tubing to allow you to pull a vacuum and release it.
  4. Once assembled, you can use the vacuum chamber to degas silicone and remove air bubbles from resin castings.

Of course, a much more fun experiment would be to boil the water at room temperature due to reduced pressure in the chamber or even expand a marshmallow. The vacuum chamber opens endless possibilities for experiments!

3. Demonstrating the power of friction with sticky notes

The beautiful and multi-colored stacks of sticky notes are a fun addition to the school stationery. But guess what, they can be instrumental in understanding the power of friction as well!

Materials required for understanding friction:

  1. Pairs of sticky notes.
  2. Small everyday objects to use as weights.

Steps to the experiment:

  1. Interleave the pages of two stacks of sticky notes, say 40 interleaved pages.
  2. Put small, daily objects as weights on them to see how much they can support.

You will be surprised with the results! A stack of 40 interleaved notes can support up to 60 pounds! This demonstrates how friction can create a very strong “grip” between surfaces, even if the materials (like paper) have a relatively low coefficient of friction on their own.

It’s like a phonebook being used to lift a car!

4. Measure the speed of light using a microwave oven

Have a bar of chocolate with you? And some spare time in the kitchen with the microwave?

That’s all you need to calculate the speed of light!

Materials required for calculating the speed of light:

  1. Chocolate bar or some marshmallows.
  2. A microwave

Let’s start with the steps:

  1. Place the food item in the microwave, and spread it out from side to side. Cook it for 5-10 seconds, being careful not to burn it.
  2. Measure the distance between the melted spots on the food – this should be around 6 cm. Each spot is half a wavelength, so the full wavelength is 12 cm or 0.12 m.
  3. Look on the back of your microwave for the frequency, which is typically 2450 MHz.
  4. Use the formula: Speed of light = Frequency x Wavelength. Plugging in the values, you get:
    Speed of light = 2,450,000,000 Hz x 0.12 m = 294,000,000 m/s.

Now before you get all science-y on us, we know the speed of light is 300,000,000m/s.  But getting so close to the real value with an old microwave and melted chocolate is an experiment worth performing! And smugly announcing the results to the world!

5. Build a brighter light bulb

Want to impress Mom and Dad by building a homemade bulb brighter than the routine one? We have your back.

Materials required to build a brighter bulb:

  1. A thin filament
  2. Inert gas like C02
  3. Higher voltage power source, like 12-24V from multiple batteries in series

Let’s assemble our bulb:

  1. Use a thinner filament material like a single strand of iron wire or pencil lead (graphite) instead of a thick braided filament. The thinner filament will heat up more efficiently and glow brighter.
  2. Enclose the filament in a glass jar filled with an inert gas like CO2 to prevent the filament from burning out quickly. Blow CO2 into the jar using an air nozzle or place a piece of dry ice inside and let it sublimate. 
  3. Connect the filament to a higher voltage power source, like 12-24V from multiple batteries in series, to provide more current and heat the filament to a brighter glow. 

Although the bulb will not be as bright as a commercial LED, it will still be impressively brighter to increase the chances of a major cash flow into your college funds by your parents!

6. Boil water in a paper cup

Yes, you may seem surprised, but it’s very much possible!

Materials required to boil water in a paper cup:

  1. Water
  2. Paper cup
  3. A heat source like a lamp or burner.

It’s as simple as it gets!

Let’s start with the steps:

  1. Put water in a paper cup and place it on a burner.
  2. The water will indeed boil!
  3. This is possible because water has a high specific heat capacity, which means it absorbs heat from the cup faster than the paper can reach its ignition temperature. As the water heats up, it conducts heat away from the paper, preventing it from burning.
  4. The water also continues to absorb heat through convection until it reaches its boiling point of 100°C, at which point the temperature of the water remains relatively constant.

However, the key word to remember here is ‘paper’, and not those styrofoam cups! Styrofoam is an insulator and does not conduct heat well, so the Styrofoam cup will disintegrate before the water boils.

However, to give you another piece of our physics secret, to boil water in a Styrofoam cup, you can use a hot rock placed in the water to transfer heat more effectively!  Start experimenting, thank us later!

Once your high school students are done with these fun experiments, they will be better able to appreciate the principles of physics in their everyday lives. And you may never know, the kid you thought slow, who always sits on the back bench of the class brooding, might just be another Einstein in the making!

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