Van der Graaf generator

Excursions to UNSW Physics

Bring your year 11 or 12 Physics class to UNSW to do experiments in our first year teaching labs, hear talks by our researchers about their work and see some of our working laboratories. We have an extensive list of experiments that can be chosen to tie in with depth studies or the syllabus (see below).


Labs are generally facilitated by current PhD students, providing an excellent opportunity for your students to connect with real researchers (approximately one PhD student for every 12 school students).


Please note that we have a limited number of available dates. A timetable can be found below.


A booking form can be found at:


For general enquires, or if you would like someone to call you to talk about excursions, please email us at or leave a message at (02) 9385 4553




How long is the visit?

The 'standard package' goes for 3 hours, including a 2 hour practical in our 1st year lab. However, many schools choose to perform two experiments and stay for the whole day.


How much does it cost?

We need to cover costs, so there would be some charge. We charge $15 per student for a 3-hour excursion (minimum $180.) This would include a two hour lab exercise and a talk and/or lab tour by our researchers. If you want to do more than one practical task, you will be charged an extra $15 per student for each extra task.


How many students can I bring?

Our two labs can accommodate a total of 140 students at once. There is no minimum number (but there is a minimum cost).


What is the group size?/How many sets of equipment do you have?

We have 36 sets of equipment for most experiments. The suggested group size is 2, but this can be tailored to suit the needs of the class. For instance, you may wish to have students working individually if the experiment is being run as an assessment task.


Can we do more than one experiment?

Absolutely. You could do 2 in a big day, or have two groups of students (eg, Y11 and Y12) doing a different experiment, each in their own lab. Keep in mind that most experiments take approximately 2 hours (some can be made to be shorter).


What resources do you provide?

We provide comprehensive worksheets for each practical task, most with pre-lab information and questions for your students to complete before they arrive.


What assistance do you provide during the task?

We provide a high ratio of experienced lab 'demonstrators' to assist your students during the lab. Their job is to help your students achieve the best learning experience possible.


Can't I just do these experiments myself in my own lab?

In some cases you might be able to do something similar, but we see our service as being of use because:

  • Much of our equipment is not found in schools, or if it is, there might only be one of each.
  • We can provide up to 72 sets of data logging equipment and 36 sets of equipment for each prac. Eg, we have 36 Photoelectric effect devices and 36 spectrometers.
  • We prepare the material and worksheets, provide demonstrators and run the experiments for you.
  • We add the experience of coming to a working university Physics school, connecting with real Physics researchers and seeing real Physics labs.


What dates are available?


We are available for school excursions during the following times:



Term 1

Any day up to February 17th

Term 2

May 2nd - June 2nd

(except Mondays)

Term 3

August 13th - September 15th

Term 4

November 19th onwards (except November 25th)


Do you do video conferences?

You can arrange Skype sessions with our postgrad students to mentor your groups as they do their depth study projects. We charge $60/postgrad/hour, so you can decide how you would like that time shared amongst your students.


What experiments can I choose from?




Links to HSC syllabus content

Equilibrium of Rigid Bodies


Investigating bodies in rotational and translational equilibrium. Uses specialised equipment allowing the balancing of up to 5 forces in different directions at once.


  • Determine the resultant of a number of vectors from diagrams drawn to scale
  • Determine the resultant force by resolving the forces into orthogonal components.
  • Investigate torque.


  • explore the concept of net force and equilibrium in one-dimensional and simple two-dimensional contexts using:  (ACSPH050) 

- algebraic addition
- vector addition
- vector addition by resolution into components

PH12-12/Circular motion:

  • investigate the relationship between the rotation of mechanical systems and the applied torque

Static Friction on an Inclined Plane


Measuring the co-efficient of static friction using an inclined plane.


  • Become familiar with splitting vectors into components
  • Investigate factors that influence the coefficient of static friction
  • Develop an understanding of the causes of friction


  • solve problems or make quantitative predictions about resultant and component forces by applying the following relationships:

  • conduct a practical investigation to explain and predict the motion of objects on inclined planes(ACSPH098) 

PH11-9/Forces, Acceleration and Energy:

  • apply Newton’s first two laws of motion to a variety of everyday situations, including both static and dynamic examples, and include the role played by friction




Uses data loggers and an inclined plane to analyse collisions of a dynamics cart with a barrier.


  • Analyse various collisions and their elasticity.
  • Measure and compare the impulse in different collisions
  • Investigate ways of reducing maximum force during a collision.

PH11-9/Momentum, Energy and Simple Systems:

  • conduct an investigation to describe and analyse one-dimensional (collinear) and two-dimensional interactions of objects in simple closed systems (ACSPH064)
  • analyse quantitatively and predict, using the law of conservation of momentum  and, where appropriate, conservation of kinetic energy , the results of interactions in elastic collisions (ACSPH066)
  • investigate the relationship and analyse information obtained from graphical representations of force as a function of time
  • evaluate the effects of forces involved in collisions and other interactions, and analyse quantitatively the interactions using the concept of impulse 
  • analyse and compare the momentum and kinetic energy or elastic and inelastic collisions (ACSPH066)
Rotational Inertia


Uses an angular data logging device to measure the rotational motion of a different objects. Introduces the concept of rotational velocity and rotational inertia and how they relate to torque.


  • Measure angular velocity
  • Calculate torque
  • Calculate moment of inertia
  • Use data logging equipment to measure rotational motion.

PH12-12/Circular motion:

  • solve problems, model and make quantitative predictions about objects executing uniform circular motion in a variety of situations, using the following relationships:

  • investigate the relationship between the rotation of mechanical systems and the applied torque

Specific and Latent Heat


Uses specialised calorimeters and data logging equipment to measure the specific heat and latent heat of fusion of water.


  • Develop an understanding of the difference in heat and temperature
  • Understand the concepts of heat capacity and latent heat.


  • explain the relationship between the temperature of an object and the kinetic energy of the particles within it (ACSPH018)
  • explain the concept of thermal equilibrium (ACSPH022)
  • analyse the relationship between the change in temperature of an object and its specific heat capacity through the equation  (ACSPH020)
  • investigate energy transfer by the process of:
    - conduction
    - convection
    - radiation (ACSPH016)
  • conduct an investigation to analyse qualitatively and quantitatively the latent heat involved in a change of state
  • model and predict quantitatively energy transfer from hot objects by the process of thermal conductivity
  • apply the following relationships to solve problems and make quantitative predictions in a variety of situations:
    • , where c is the specific heat capacity of a substance
    •   where k is the thermal conductivity of a material
Linear Oscillatory Motion


Uses data logging equipment to measure the movement of a weight on a spring.


  • Measure the amplitude, frequency and period of a simple harmonic oscillator.
  • Determine spring constant.

PH11-10/Wave properties:

  • solve problems and/or make predictions by modelling and applying the following relationships to a variety of situations:
Standing waves on a string


Uses an oscillator to generate standing waves in a string. Length, string tension and driving frequency can be adjusted. Mass of string is calculated.


  • Observe and understand resonance
  • Observe, measure and manipulate standing waves in different harmonics.
  • Understand how the principle of superposition relates to standing waves.
  • Develop an understanding of the relationship between the mass and tension of a medium and the frequency, wavelength and velocity of a wave in that medium.

PH11-10/Wave properties:

  • conduct a practical investigation involving the creation of mechanical waves in a variety of situations in order to explain:

- the role of the medium in the propagation of mechanical waves
- the transfer of energy involved in the propagation of mechanical waves (ACSPH067, ACSPH070)

  • construct and/or interpret graphs of displacement as a function of time and as a function of position of transverse and longitudinal waves, and relate the features of those graphs to the following wave characteristics:

- velocity
- frequency
- period
- wavelength
- displacement and amplitude (ACSPH069)

  • solve problems and/or make predictions by modelling and applying the following relationships to a variety of situations:

PH11-10/Wave Behaviour:

  • explain the behaviour of waves in a variety of situations by investigating the phenomena of:

- reflection
- wave superposition (ACSPH071, ACSPH072)

  • conduct an investigation to distinguish between progressive and standing waves (ACSPH072)
  • conduct an investigation to explore resonance in mechanical systems and the relationships between:

- driving frequency
- natural frequency of the oscillating system
- amplitude of motion
- transfer/transformation of energy within the system (ACSPH073)

PH11-10/Sound waves:

  • investigate and model the behaviour of standing waves on strings and/or in pipes to relate quantitatively the fundamental and harmonic frequencies of the waves that are produced to the physical characteristics (eg length, mass, tension, wave velocity) of the medium (ACSPH072)
Electrostatic Field Plotting


Uses probes and electroconductive paper to map the electric fields around different shapes of electrode.


  • Develop an understanding of electrical potential
  • Map and develop an understanding of equipotentials and how they relate to field lines.


  • using the electric field lines representation, model qualitatively the direction and strength of electric fields produced by:

- simple point charges
- pairs of charges
- dipoles
- parallel charged plates

  • analyse the effects of a moving charge in an electric field, in order to relate potential energy, work and equipotential lines, by applying: (ACSPH105)

 , where U is potential energy and q is the charge

PH12-13/Charged Particles, Conductors and Electric and Magnetic Fields:

  • investigate and quantitatively derive and analyse the interaction between charged particles and uniform electric fields, including: (ACSPH083)

- electric field between parallel charged plates 



A constant current source is used to charge various unknown capacitors. Datalogging equipment is used to measure voltage with respect to time.


  • Understand that capacitors hold charge
  • Develop an understanding of the relationship between charge, time and voltage.
  • Understand how to add capacitors in series and parallel
  • Improve knowledge of practical circuits


  • conduct investigations to describe and analyse qualitatively and quantitatively:

- processes by which objects become electrically charged (ACSPH002)

PH11-11/Electric Circuits:

  • investigate the flow of electric current in metals and apply models to represent current, including:


  • Investigate qualitatively and quantitatively series and parallel circuits to relate the flow of current through the individual components, the potential differences across those components and the rate of energy conversion by the components to the laws of conservation of charge and energy, by deriving the following relationships: (ACSPH038, ACSPH039, ACSPH044)

Fields and The 'Slinky' Coil


A slinky is used as a variable density solenoid while a magnetic field probe is used to investigate the field in the coil. A value for the permeability of free space is determined.


  • Understand the nature of a magnetic field around a solenoid
  • Relate magnetic field to current, length and number of turns of a solenoid.
  • Perform calculations with the formula

  • Measure the earth's magnetic field and direction


use magnetic field lines to model qualitatively the direction and strength of magnetic fields produced by magnets, current-carrying wires and solenoids and relate these fields to their effect on magnetic materials that are placed within them (ACSPH083)

  • conduct investigations into and describe quantitatively the magnetic fields produced by wires and solenoids, including: (ACSPH106, ACSPH107)

  • investigate and explain the process by which ferromagnetic materials become magnetised (ACSPH083)
  • apply models to represent qualitatively and describe quantitatively the features of magnetic fields
Microwave Optics


Use microwave generation and detection equipment to investigate various phenomena associated with electromagnetic radiation. Microwaves operate at a larger physical scale than visible light so students can better develop a 'feel' for what is happening.


  • Measure and develop an understanding of interference, including double slit interference.
  • Measure and develop an understanding of polarisation
  • Optional investigations (less than 36 sets available):
  • Simulation of fibre optics
  • Michelson Interferometer
  • Bragg scattering

PH12-14/Light: Wave Model

  • conduct investigations to analyse quantitatively the interference of light using double slit apparatus and diffraction gratings (ACSPH116, ACSPH117, ACSPH140)
  • analyse the experimental evidence that supported the models of light that were proposed by Newton and Huygens (ACSPH050, ACSPH118, ACSPH123)
  • conduct investigations quantitatively using the relationship of Malus’ Law  for plane polarisation of light, to evaluate the significance of polarisation in developing a model for light
  • conduct investigations to analyse qualitatively the diffraction of light (ACSPH048, ACSPH076)


Spectrometer and diffraction Gratings


Use a spectrometer to measure the spectral lines of Sodium and Mercury laps. Using , the spacing of the diffraction grating is calcuated.


  • Describe how different gases produce different emission lines
  • Learn how to use a spectrometer
  • Understand interference and perform calculations using 

PH12-14/Light: Wave Model

  • conduct investigations to analyse quantitatively the interference of light using double slit apparatus and diffraction gratings (ACSPH116, ACSPH117, ACSPH140)
  • analyse the experimental evidence that supported the models of light that were proposed by Newton and Huygens (ACSPH050, ACSPH118, ACSPH123)

PH12-15/Origins of the Elements

  • conduct investigations to analyse qualitatively the diffraction of light (ACSPH048, ACSPH076)account for the production of emission and absorption spectra and compare these with a continuous black body spectrum (ACSPH137)
Emission Spectra and Thin Film interference


Uses a digital spectrometer (connected to a computer) to measure the emission spectra of various light sources (including LEDs). Uses thin film interference to measure the radius of a lens and angle of a thin air wedge.


  • Develop an understanding of thin film interference and thus perform physical measurements using the phenomena.
  • Develop a practical understanding of emission spectra
  • Develop an understanding of how band gap and spectral lines apply to LEDs.
  • Use measurements to calculate the band gap of LEDs


  • The Digital spectrometer can also be configured to measure absorption spectra.

PH12-15/Origins of the Elements

  • account for the production of emission and absorption spectra and compare these with a continuous black body spectrum (ACSPH137)
The Photoelectric effect


Use a Photoelectric effect apparatus to investigate the photoelectric effect. Calculate Planck's constant and the work function of the cathode.


  • Develop a practical understanding of the photoelectric effect
  • Calculate Planck's constant and work function of a substance.

PH12-14/Light: Quantum Model

  • analyse the experimental evidence gathered about black body radiation, including Wien’s Law related to Planck's contribution to a changed model of light (ACSPH137)

  • investigate the evidence from photoelectric effect investigations that demonstrated inconsistency with the wave model for light (ACSPH087, ACSPH123, ACSPH137)
  • analyse the photoelectric effect as it occurs in metallic elements by applying the law of conservation of energy and the photon model of light, (ACSPH119)
The Pendulum


Finding 'g' with a pendulum. This is the same method as you might have done at school, with the addition of specifically designed retort stand clamps and a protractor for easy adjustment of the length.


  • Determine a value for g