Is it reasonable to pursue physics research in high school?

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Is it reasonable to pursue physics research in high school?

Postby clarabuck28 » Fri Jan 25, 2013 2:29 pm

I am high school student in 10th grade and I'm very interested in and passionate about physics. Unfortunately, I haven't had the opportunity to take a physics class yet (however I have read most of Stephen Hawking's physics books). Last year, when I was in 9th grade, I won my regional fair and went on to Intel ISEF with a biology project. My regional fair is small so although my project was good, it was not nearly up to par with most projects at ISEF. I really want to do physics research and go back to Intel in 11th grade. I am willing to dedicate a lot of time to it.
I need advice about wether or not I should pursue physics research in high school. At ISEF I spent a lot of time looking at physics projects and they were mostly very complex (of course). To be honest I don't understand how high school students can be doing such high-level math and science. It doesn't seem like it would even be possible for me to learn so much in such a short period of time. I am taking pre-calculus and I'm fairly certain that that is not an adequate math background for high-level physics research.
Perhaps it is possible for me to succeed with a physics science project, and I just need to find a mentor and then dedicate a lot of time and effort to understanding whatever physics topic comes up. However the prospect of being mentored in a university physics lab when I have absolutely no physics background seems extremely intimidating to me, and perhaps I should just wait until college to worry about research.
To summarize: How do mere high school students preform research that is up to par with scientists who spent years in college learning about their subject? Is it possible for me to do physics research as a high school student? Thank you.
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Re: Is it reasonable to pursue physics research in high scho

Postby matthewgettemy » Tue Jan 29, 2013 5:18 pm

Hi clarabuck28,
Most professors at the college level would be seeking physics or science students at their university to work with them on research. Depending on how ambitious your high school physics teachers are, you may be able to mentor under one of them or join a science club at your school.
What area of physics do you like most? It will be much more fulfilling to devise your own project/experiment if you do it in an area that interests you.
Depending on your interests you may be able to do some independent study and research over the next year.

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Re: Is it reasonable to pursue physics research in high scho

Postby Craig_Bridge » Wed Jan 30, 2013 7:29 am

Physics is a vast subject with many different areas, so it would be VERY helpful to know what areas interest you. Some areas require a lot of calculus. Others don't require as much calculus. 40 years ago, Purdue University Physics department figured out how to teach a non-trivial freshman first semester physics course for Physics Majors coming from a broad range of highschool math backgrounds. It can be done but it is NOT easy to teach. Students who had differential and integral calculas in highschool still had a huge advantage. Engineering students typically don't take physics courses until they had differential and integral calculus because the Mechanics and Electric/Magnetic courses were a lot of calculations.
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Re: Is it reasonable to pursue physics research in high scho

Postby wendellwiggins » Wed Jan 30, 2013 10:58 am

Hello clarabuck28,

Please don't be intimidated by the advanced ISEF projects. Almost all of these projects are done by a student who has found a university professor to be a mentor and provide lab facilities.

Have you done well in your math courses? If yes, then you will likely do well in physics. Besides math, the other prerequisite for physics is that you really want to do it. You seem to qualify on that issue already. Physics requires that you put your brain in gear, and as you learn things you remember them and apply them to what comes next. The knowledge of physics builds on itself.

Take your high-school physics as soon as you can. Take all the math that's offered. If you have gotten basic calculus under your belt, you will be ready to start physics. Enroll in an advanced-level physics if it's offered. Pick a research project you can do at home if you don't have access to a research lab.

Prepare yourself to get into a college with a strong physics program. Choose a physics department that has a strong reputation in research. In such a department, the research professors are usually willing to have you work in their lab even when you are just getting started.

After 50 years of doing physics, I still love it. The universe has many mysteries to be unraveled and many useful inventions to be done. Welcome to the club! WW
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