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The Physicist Aptitude Test

Author: Judee Shipman

Grade Level: 9th - 12th; Type: Social Science

Objective: 

Devise a questionnaire to determine a person's aptitude in the field of physics. The goals of this project are:     

  1. To explore the thinking patterns of physicists.     
  2. To discover new ways of measuring career aptitude.     

Research Questions:     

  • What does a physicist do, exactly?     
  • What type of person is most apt to become a physicist?     
  • What do physicists have in common?   

A refreshingly humorous book called Fear of Physics explains how physicists think in such a way that they can give astonishingly accurate estimates on topics they know nothing about, as long as the answer is a numeric value.  A physicist can tell you, for example, approximately how many elephants live in Japan, without having to look anything up. This project involves a test designed to reveal this strange numerical logic. Do people who achieve low scores think more like physicists than those who score higher?

Materials:

  • Computer with Internet access     
  • Color printer     
  • Digital camera     
  • Typical office/hobby/hardware/craft supplies (paper, poster board, glue, etc.).     
  • At least 20 adult volunteers.

All necessary materials can be found in or around your home, at local stores, or on ebay.

Experimental Procedure:     

  1. Study relevant topics (see bibliography below and terms listed above)     
  2. Address all of the above terms and research questions.     
  3. Search and print out interesting images relevant to your topic.     
  4. Take photographs throughout the course of the experiment.     
  5. Devise a test with 10 questions. Each question must be obscure, and have a number for an answer. DO NOT use a multiple choice format. Keep the questions open-ended. Be creative. Come up with questions to which fairly accurate answers can be found with a bit of research. For instance:  “How many elephants live in Japan?” Or “How many buffalo can survive year-round on 100 acres of grassland?”     
  6. Research and discover the answer to each of the 10 questions.     
  7. Have each volunteer take the test.  Ask volunteers to write their names and occupations at the top of the page.     
  8. Score each test based on the difference between the volunteer's answer and the correct answer. For instance, if the answer is 197 and the volunteer writes 160 (or 234), the score for that question would be 37. The final score is the sum total of the scores for all 10 questions.     
  9. Analyze your results. Try to determine whether or not volunteers with the lowest scores have a special aptitude for physics. 
  10. Include photos, diagrams, models and demonstrations in your science fair display.  

Terms/Concepts: Statistical significance; Vocational Aptitude

References:

  • http://thinklikeaphysicist.blogspot.com/  (How physicists think about numbers).     
  • Fear of Physics (a book by Lawrence M. Krauss)   
  • Internet searches of your choosing.  Search words or terms listed here, or make up your own phrases.  Click on any results you find interesting.  Have fun surfing the net!  

 

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