Physics Depth Study | Ideas and Examples of Depth Study Reports

Looking for inspiration for your Physics depth study? Here is an example of a Band 6 depth study report on a Physics practical investigation. Learn the 5 depth study types as well as ideas and tools for your depth study to get you started.

Looking for Physics depth study ideas and examples?

If you are give a Physics depth study assessment task, you are probably as confused as many other students out there.

In this article, we discuss


What are Physics depth studies?

A depth study is any type of investigation/activity that a student completes individually or collaboratively that allows the further development of one or more concepts found within or inspired by the Physics syllabus.

The flowchart categorises different types of depth studies:

Physics Depth Studies Category Flowchart
The flowchart illustrates the different types of investigation in Depth Studies.


A depth study may be, but is not limited to:

  • a practical investigation or series of practical investigations and/or a secondary-sourced investigation or series of secondary-sourced investigations
  • presentations, research assignments or fieldwork reports
  • the extension of concepts found within the course, either qualitatively and/or quantitatively


Ideas and tools for Physics depth study

Most Physics depth studies are on:

  • practical investigations or
  • secondary-srouced investigations

A list of Physics depth study types and useful tools are provided below. For more information on each Physics depth study type, click the link.

Depth Study TypeIdeasUseful tools
Practical investigations
  • Design and conduct experiments
  • Test a claim
  • Test a device.
Secondary-sourced investigations
  • Make a documentary or media report
  • Conduct a literature review
  • Develop an evidence-based argument
  • Write a journal article
  • Write an essay – historical or theoretical
  • Develop an environmental management plan
  • Analyse a work of fiction or film for scientific relevance
  • Create a visual presentation
  • Investigate emerging technologies.
Data Analysis

Data analysis may be incorporated into a practical investigation or secondary-sourced investigation.
For example:

  • construction and analysis of graphs/tables
  • data analysis from a variety of sources
  • research analysis, eg of longitudinal data, resource management data
  • Design and invent
  • Create a working model
  • Create a portfolio.

Fieldwork may be a starting point for a practical investigation or secondary-sourced study and could be initiated by the following stimuli:

  • an excursion
  • engagement with community experts.

Source: NSW Education Standards Authority



Sample Physics depth study on practical investigations

Designing and conducting experiments is one of the most popular ideas for practical investigations. When designing and conducting Physics experiments, the scientific method needs to be considered.

Sample Physics depth study assessment notification on Module 6 Electromagnetism

A sample Physics Depth Study assessment notification requiring a student to design and conduct experiment is shown below.

Task Description

Students are required to develop an investigation question related to the following Physics outcome: explains and analyses the electric and magnetic interactions due to charged particles orcurrents and evaluates their effect both qualitatively and quantitatively.

  1. After choosing an investigation question, students will plan out a proposed method.
  2. Once accepted students conduct a first-hand investigation in Term 2 to answer their investigation question.
  3. The data collected will enable students to write a conclusion that answers the original investigation question.This will be submitted on Monday of week 3.
  4. The students will also present their findings to the class. This presentation will be peer marked.

Marking Criteria

This task assesses skills in working scientifically involving all of the following:

  • developing and evaluating questions and hypotheses for scientific investigation
  • designing and evaluatinginvestigations to obtain both primary and secondary data and information
  • conducting investigations to collect valid and reliable primary and secondary data and information
  • analysing and evaluation of primary and secondary data and information
  • communicating scientific understanding using suitable language and terminology

This task assesses knowledge and understanding outcomes:

  • explains and analyses the electric and magnetic interactions due to charged particles and currents and evaluates their effect both qualitatively and quantitatively


Sample Physics depth study report

This report is based on Learnable’s Depth Study Template which adopts the scientific method. Click here to see Learnable’s Depth Study Report Template.

This sample Physics depth study report was written by 2019 graduate Matthew Drielsma and shared in this article with his permission.


An investigation to determine the value of the permittivity of free space using a parallel plate capacitor to measure the capacitance at varying distances with an applied voltage.

Inquiry question

Can we calculate the value of the permittivity of free space, ε0, by measuring the capacitance of two parallel plates with an applied voltage at varying distances apart?


That capacitance is inversely proportional to the distance between two parallel plates and that the permittivity of free space can be calculated by measuring the capacitance between two parallel plates at varying distances with an applied voltage.


To calculate the value of the permittivity of free space, ε0, between two parallel plates by measuring the capacitance between the parallel plates at varying distances with an applied voltage.


Permittivity is a measure of a medium’s tendency to resist the establishment of an electric field within it. The permittivity of free space, ε0, is a physical constant 8.854 x 10-12  Fm-1 (farads/meter) which represents the capability of a vacuum to permit electrical fields. This value is a fundamental constant often used in the field of electromagnetism.

The electric permittivity, ε0, is used in the calculation of the speed of light, c;

c=\frac{1}{\sqrt{µ_0ε_0}}Equation (1)


In Coulomb’s Law, to calculate the force between two charges;

F=\frac{q1q2}{4\pi r^2ε_0} Equation (2)


And in Gauss’ Law, which is the total charge of a closed surface;

E=\frac{Q}{ε_0A}Equation (3)


The permittivity of free space also appears as a constant relating to capacitance, which is a measure of the ability of the capacitor to store potential energy when a current passes through it. A simple capacitor can be constructed using two parallel metal plates, with surface area (A), separated by a distance (d). The value of the permittivity of free space can be derived from the equation for capacitance (C):

Where C=\frac{Q}{V}

Where Q=charge, and V=voltage

Equation (4)


From Gauss’ Law (3) Q=Eε_0A, substituting this into (4)

C=\frac{Eε_0A}{V}Equation (5)


Substituting E=\frac{V}{d}, the electric field between two plates into (5), this allows for the expression of capacitance of parallel metallic plates:



K= Relative permittivity of the dielectric material between the plates

A= Area of the plate

d= Distance between the plates

Equation (6)


The dielectric constant of a vacuum is 1.00, and for air it is close to 1.00 (1.00059) so air filled capacitors act similar to those with a vacuum. From this equation, the permittivity of free space can be determined, where capacitance is directly proportional to the area of the plates and inversely proportional to plate separation. Therefore, a straight-line graph of capacitance plotted against the inverse of plate separation distance, with constant plate area, can be used to calculate the slope. With the known plate area, the value of ε0 can be determined from:


ε_0=\frac{Slope}{A}Equation (7)


The aim of this Physics experiment is to calculate the value of the permittivity of free space using a parallel plate capacitor to determine the relationship between capacitance and the distance of the plate separation. In calculating this value experimentally and comparing it to the known value, it will allow us to assess the experimental design and to calculate the percentage error in the measurement of ε0. Furthermore, when using the value of ε0 in the future for electromagnetic equations, we are better able to understand the physics of how this value is derived and its scientific applications.



Independent variable: Distance (mm) between the parallel plates

Dependent variable: Capacitance (nF) of the parallel plates

Control variables:

  • Shape, size, area and material of the parallel plates
  • Parallel alignment of the plates
  • Voltage applied to the plates
  • Multimeter
  • Vernier Caliper
  • Battery power source
  • Ruler length and material
  • Alligator clips
  • Connecting wires
  • Sliding Lego stand
  • Temperature and humidity of the room
  • Person doing the measurements

Risk Assessment

EquipmentPotential hazardStandard handling procedure to minimise risk
1.5V C BatteryHeat released, possibly leading to rupture of case. Contents corrosive.Check for leakage. Do not use after expiry date.
MultimeterPossibility of electric shockDo not use near water. Check for damaged cables/do not use if cables are damaged
Alligator clipsCan pinch skin causing pain to skinDo not clip onto skin
Copper metal platesVery sharp edges can cut skinTake care when handling the edges of plates.
ScissorsSharp blades can cut skinTake care when handling. Store when not in use.
CallipersPoints on jaws may cause injury to skin and eyes if misused.Take care when handling. Store when not in use.
RulerMetal ruler has sharp edges- can cause injuryTake care when handling



  • DC 1.5V C battery
  • 2 x (94 mm x 100 mm) copper plates
  • Digitech digital multimeter
  • 4 Alligator clips
  • 30 cm metal ruler
  • Vernier caliper
  • 4 Connecting wires
  • Scissors
  • Blue tac
  • Lego sliding stand for parallel plates

Experimental setup

Physics Depth Study - Experimental Setup showing a Parallel Plate Capacitor


  1. Two copper plates 0.094 m x 0.10 m in size, were measured with a millimetre ruler and cut from a sheet of cooper.
  2. The copper plates were flattened under heavy books.
  3. The parallel copper plates were mounted, with blue tac, to a sliding stand constructed from Lego.
  4. A DC 1.5V C battery was connected to each of the parallel plates using connecting wires and alligator clips.
  5. A multimeter was set up in parallel to the plates by connecting one terminal to each plate with connecting wires and alligator clips. The multimeter was set to capacitance mode in nanofarads (nF).
  6. A caliper was used to measure a plate separation of 10 mm.
  7. The capacitance reading on the multimeter was recorded. The multimeter was immediately turned off.
  8. Steps 6-7 were repeated using plate separations of 20 mm, 30 mm, 40 mm, 50 mm, 60 mm, 70 mm.
  9. Three trials were completed for each plate separation and the values for capacitance were averaged.
  10. The inverse distance in was calculated.
  11. Using Excel, a graph of the capacitance C (F) was plotted against the inverse of the distance between the parallel copper plates d-1 (m-1).


Data table

Distance between plates (mm)1/d


Capacitance (nF)Capacitance (F)    
Trial 1Trial 2Trial 3 Average
101000.0330.0330.0320.0333.3 x 10-11
2050.00.0240.0240.0240.0242.4 x 10-11
3033.30.0210.0210.0220.0212.1 x 10-11
4025.00.0200.0190.0190.0191.9 x 10-11
5020.00.0180.0190.0180.0181.8 x 10-11
6016.70.0170.0180.0170.0171.7 x 10-11
7014.30.0150.0180.0160.0161.6 x 10-11 



Quantitative analysis

The results were plotted and the line of best fit was drawn to display the relationship between capacitance and inverse distance for the parallel plate capacitor as shown below.

Physics Depth Study - Graph of Capacitance vs Inverse Distance for a Parallel Plate Capacitor
Graph of Capacitance vs Inverse Distance for a Parallel Plate Capacitor


Using the slope of the line of best fit and the area of the plates, the permittivity of free space ε0 was calculated.


Slope=\frac{Δy}{Δx}=2.0 \times 10^{-13} \ Fm


ε_0=\frac{2.0 \times 10^{-13}}{0.0094}

\therefore ε_0=2.13 \times 10^{-11} \ Fm^{-1}

Qualitative analysis

Assessment of whether and how the questions raised in the introduction (aim) have been answered:

The aim of this experiment was to calculate the value of the permittivity of free space, ε0, by measuring the capacitance between two parallel plates at varying distances with an applied voltage. The values of capacitance were plotted against the inverse distance between the plates, the slope was determined from the line of best fit. The slope was then used to calculate ε0.

A capacitor was made using two parallel copper plates separated by a certain distance. When a voltage was applied, a uniform electric field was created between the plates. From the establishment of this electric field the capacitance was able to be measured. As capacitance is proportional to inverse distance, a graph of capacitance vs inverse separation of the plates resulted in a straight line of best fit, consistent with other sources found in research (Reyes, 2015). The slope of this line was calculated to be 2.0 x 10-13 Fm (Figure 3). From this calculation of slope, the value of the permittivity of free space was derived using the area of the plates (Equation 7). The experimental value obtained of 2.13 x 10-11 Fm-1, does not agree with the accepted value of 8.854 x 10-12 Fm-1 with an experimental error of 40.6%.

Evaluation of the method and sources of error in the experiment:

Systematic sources of error in the experimental design have resulted in the discrepancy between the measured and theoretical value for the permittivity of free space.

The accepted value of 8.854 x 10-12 Fm-1was calculated in a vacuum, however the experimental value was obtained in air, which has humidity that would affect the charge between the parallel plates, thus affecting the calculation. Water is a polar molecule and in the presence of an electric field between two charged plates, the molecules align with the charges on the plate opposing the electric field and thus the net electric field is reduced which increases capacitance (Al-Ta’ii, Amin & Periasmy, 2016). Thus, the humidity of the air has contributed to the systematic error. The dielectric constant of a vacuum is 1.00, which was used in the calculation,  and air is 1.00059, so in effect this is a systematic error which will slightly increase the measured value of permittivity of free space.

Furthermore, the alignment of the two plates were not completely parallel since the plates were mounted with blue tac and had dents from trying to straighten them out,  this would significantly contribute to a systematic error since there was not a uniform electric field between the plates which would affect the value of capacitance. These systematic errors can be seen in the y-intercept of the graph (Figure 3) which has occurred due to the values of capacitance being shifted up by a fixed value.

Identification and justification of improvements to the experiment in relation to accuracy, reliability and validity


Reliability is the consistency of the results. The method was reliable in that there were three repeats at each distance between the plates and the results were reliable as the results obtained were consistent in each trial (Table 1) and there was not much deviation from the line of best fit. The results were averaged, and the average was plotted on the graph


Validity is an assessment of how well the experiment meets the aim. This experiment was not valid in that not all variables were able to be controlled and kept constant. The plates were not completely parallel as they were cut from a rolled sheet of copper which was difficult to flatten without leaving dents in them. Also, they were mounted on a Lego stand held in place with blue tac, which further contributed to their lack of precise parallel alignment. Variables that were kept constant included, the shape, size, area, thickness and material of the plates, the voltage applied between the plates,  the multimeter, battery, ruler, calliper, alligator clips, temperature and humidity of the room and the person doing the measurements. Only the distance between the parallel plates (independent variable) was varied.


Accuracy is a measure of how close the experimental results are to the accepted true value.

  • The calculated result for ε0 in this experiment was 2.13×10-11Fm-1
  • The accepted true value for ε0 is 8.854×10-12Fm-1

The percentage error for this experiment is given by:

\% \ error=\frac{|true-experimental|}{true} \times 100

\therefore \% \ error=\frac{|8.854 \times 10^{-12}-2.13 \times 10^{-11}|}{8.854 \times 10^{-12}} \times 100=40.6\%

The experimental value calculated for the permittivity of free space was 2.13 x 10-11 Fm-1 which resulted in an experimental error which was 1.41 times the theoretical value, a 40.6% error compared to the known value of 8.854 x 10-12 Fm-1 thus, this experiment was not accurate.

Research of a secondary source (Reyes, 2015) revealed a more accurate value in the calculation of the permittivity of free space. In carrying out 3 repeats for each separation distance with the use of precision instruments such as a digital caliper, capacitance meter and a horizontal parallel plate set up using disc spacers to separate the plates ensured this experiment was valid with greater accuracy in the value obtained for ε0 of 9.62 x 10-12 Fm-1 with an error of only 8.70%.

How to improve or extend the experiment:

To improve this experiment, the use of a factory made variable parallel plate capacitor set up, where the plates could be adjusted to ensure they were precisely parallel and where a sliding measurement bar was present to give precision distance, would significantly improve validity and accuracy.

Furthermore, the use of a laser distance sensor would increase the accuracy and the precision for small distances between the plates and performing this experiment in a vacuum would eliminate any humidity and air particles and thus increase the validity and accuracy.

To extend this experiment,  it would be interesting to determine the effect of placing different materials between the charged parallel plates, such as paper, plastic and glass, all  of which have different dielectric coefficients (k) that are greater than air . The determination of the effect on capacitance compared to air can be calculated using equation (6) and gives insight into how these materials are used in real life applications such as making efficient capacitors.


Using a constant voltage, the capacitance of parallel plates was measured at varying separation distances and plotted against the inverse distance.  From the slope of the line of best fit, the permittivity of free space, ε0,was calculated. The  experimental value obtained was 2.13 x 10-11 Fm-1 with a 40.6% error compared to the theoretical value of 8.854 x 10-12 Fm-1. This error can be attributed to multiple systematic errors in the experimental method and uncertainties in the measurements. This experiment was reliable but not valid, thus, the hypothesis was not supported by the experimental data obtained.


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Written by DJ Kim

DJ is the founder of Learnable and has a passionate interest in education and technology. He is also the author of Physics resources on Learnable.

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