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VCE Science

Physics Unit 4 - How Can Two Contradictory Models Explain Both Light and Matter?


Physics Unit 3. Mathematical Methods is strongly recommended.

Course Description

In this unit, students explore the use of wave and particle theories to model the properties of light and matter. They examine how the concept of the wave is used to explain the nature of light and explore its limitations in describing light behaviour. Students further investigate light by using a particle model to explain its behaviour. A wave model is also used to explain the behaviour of matter which enables students to consider the relationship between light and matter. Students learn to think beyond the concepts experienced in everyday life to study the physical world from a new perspective. Students design and undertake investigations involving at least two continuous independent variables.

Areas of Study

In this area of study students use evidence from experiments to explore wave concepts in a variety of applications. Wave theory has been used to describe transfers of energy, and is important in explaining phenomena including reflection, refraction, interference and polarisation. Do waves need a medium in order to propagate and, if so, what is the medium? Students investigate the properties of mechanical waves and examine the evidence suggesting that light is a wave. They apply quantitative models to explore how light changes direction, including reflection, refraction, colour dispersion and polarisation.

How are light and matter similar?

When light and matter are probed they appear to have remarkable similarities. Light, which was previously described as an electromagnetic wave, appears to exhibit both wave-like and particle-like properties. Findings that electrons behave in a wave-like manner challenged thinking about the relationship between light and matter, where matter had been modelled previously as being made up of particles.

Practical Investigation

The investigation requires the student to develop a question, formulate a hypothesis and plan a course of action to answer the question and that complies with safety and ethical guidelines. Students then undertake an experiment that involves the collection of primary quantitative data, analyse and evaluate the data, identify limitations of data and methods, link experimental results to science ideas, reach a conclusion in response to the question and suggest further investigations that may be undertaken. The student is expected to design and undertake an investigation involving two continuous independent variables.


Outcomes Assessment Tasks Marks Allocated
(school-assessed coursework)

Apply wave concepts to analyse, interpret and explain the behaviour of light.

At least one task, which is different from the task selected for Outcome 2, (approximately 50 minutes or not exceeding 1000 words for each task) selected from the following:

  • Annotations of at least two practical activities from a practical logbook.
  • A report of a student investigation.
  • A report of a physics phenomenon.
  • Data analysis.
  • Media analysis/response.
  • Design, building, testing and evaluation of a device or physical model.
  • An explanation of the operation of a device or physical model.
  • A proposed solution to a scientific or technological problem.
  • A response to structured questions.
  • A reflective learning journal or blog related to selected activities or in response to an issue.
  • A test (short answer and extended response).

Provide evidence for the nature of light and matter, and analyse the data from experiments that support this evidence.
Analysis and evaluation of stimulus material. At least one task (which is different from the task/s selected for Outcomes 1) selected from the list in Outcome 1. 30
Design and undertake a practical investigation related to waves, fields or motion, and present methodologies, findings and conclusions in a scientific poster. Structured scientific poster according to VCAA template (not exceeding 1000 words). 35
Total Marks 95

Overall Final Assessment

Graded Assessment Title Assessment Exam Duration Contribution to Study Score (%)
1 Unit 3 Coursework School-assessed   21
2 Unit 4 Coursework School-assessed   19
3 Written Examination November 2.5 hours 60


Reproduced by permission of the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, Victoria, Australia: