International Baccalaureate Core Syllabus 

Electricity and Magnetism Circular Motion and Gravitation Atomic, Particle, and Nuclear Physics Energy Production 

The Core Syllabus has topics in each of the four options. You take one of the options. If you are lucky enough to be in a centre with four physics groups, you may have the opportunity to choose the option you do. In most schools and colleges, the tutor will choose it for you. 

Note: The syllabus statements about the following have been omitted for space reasons:
You can find these statements in the syllabus. Guidance shown like this is extra guidance from me, not the syllabus. 

In the exam, you are expected to understand: 

Topic 1  Measurements and Uncertainties 

1.1 Measurements in Physics 

Understanding 
Applications 
Guidance 
Equations  Link 
Fundamental and derived SI units;

Using SI units in the correct format for all required measurements, final answers to calculations and presentation of raw and processed data; Using scientific notation and metric multipliers; Quoting and comparing ratios, values and approximations to the nearest order of magnitude; Estimating quantities to an appropriate number of significant figures. 
SI
unit usage and information can be found at the website of Bureau
Students will not need to know the
definition of SI units except where
Candela is not a required SI unit for
this course;
Guidance on any use of nonSI units
such as eV, MeV c^{2}, ly and pc will be 
You are expected to use equations as a matter of course in all your work. 
(Introduction)
(Symbols and Units)
(Significant Figures)
(Equations)
(Orders of Magnitude) 
1.2 Uncertainties and Errors 

Random and systematic errors;

Explaining how random and systematic errors can be identified and reduced;
Propagating uncertainties through
calculations involving addition,

Analysis of uncertainties will not be expected for trigonometric or logarithmic functions in examinations.
You should look at Induction 7 for expected standards in presentation.
You should look at Induction 9 for the use of ICT in your course.
You are advised to review the Induction section from time to time throughout your course. 

(Uncertainty)
(Basic Graphical Skills)
(Further Graphical Skills)
(Presentation)
(ICT) 
1.3 Vectors and Scalars 

Vector and scalar quantities;
Combination and resolution of vectors. 
Solving vector problems graphically and algebraically. 
Resolution of vectors will be limited to two perpendicular directions;
Problems will be limited to addition
and subtraction of vectors and the 

(Vectors and Scalars) 
Topic 2 Mechanics 

2.1 Motion 

Understanding 
Applications 
Guidance 
Equations  Link 
Distance and displacement;
Speed and velocity;
Acceleration;
Graphs describing motion;
Equations of motion for uniform acceleration;
Projectile motion;
Fluid resistance and terminal speed. 
Determining instantaneous and average values for velocity, speed and acceleration;
Determining the acceleration of
freefall experimentally; Analysing projectile motion, including the resolution of vertical and horizontal components of acceleration, velocity and displacement;

Calculations will be restricted to those neglecting air resistance;
The equation of the path of a projectile will not be required. 

(Motion)
(Terminal Velocity)
(Friction and Drag)
(Projectile Motion) 
2.2 Forces 

Objects as point particles;
Freebody diagrams;
Translational equilibrium;
Newton’s laws of motion;
Solid friction 
Representing forces as vectors;
Sketching and interpreting freebody
diagrams;
Describing the consequences of Newton’s
first law for translational

Students should label forces using commonly accepted names or symbols (for example: weight or force of gravity or mg );
Calculations relating to the determination of resultant forces will be restricted to one and twodimensional situations. 

(Vectors and Scalars) (Free Body Diagrams and Equilibrium)
(Friction and Drag)
(Newton's Laws) 
2.3 Work, Energy, and Power 

Kinetic energy;

Discussing the conservation of total energy within energy transformations;

Cases where the line of action of the
force and the displacement are not


(Work, Energy, and Power)
(Efficiency)
(Conservation of Energy)
(Elastic Potential Energy) 
2.4 Momentum and Impulse 

Newton’s second law expressed in terms of rate of change of momentum;
Conservation of linear momentum; Elastic collisions, inelastic collisions and explosions. 
Applying conservation of momentum in simple isolated systems including (but not limited to) collisions, explosions, or water jets;
Qualitatively and quantitatively comparing situations involving elastic collisions, inelastic collisions and explosions. 
Students should be aware that F = ma is
equivalent of F = Δp/Δt only when mass


(Momentum and Impulse)
(Conservation of momentum)

Topic 3 Thermal Physics 

3.1 Thermal Concepts 

Understanding 
Applications 
Guidance 
Equations  Link 
Molecular theory of solids, liquids and gases;
Temperature and absolute temperature;
Internal energy;
Specific heat capacity;
Phase change;
Specific latent heat. 
Describing temperature change in terms of internal energy;
Using Kelvin and Celsius temperature scales and converting between them;
Applying the calorimetric techniques of
specific heat capacity or specific
Describing phase change in terms of molecular behaviour;

Internal energy is taken to be the
total intermolecular potential energy + the
Phase change graphs may have axes of temperature versus time or temperature versus energy;


(Heat Flow) 
3.2 Modelling a Gas 

Pressure;

Solving problems using the equation of state for an ideal gas and gas laws;
Sketching and interpreting changes of
state of an ideal gas on pressure–
Investigating at least one gas law experimentally. 
Students should be aware of the
assumptions that underpin the molecular
Gas laws are limited to constant
volume, constant temperature, constant


(Ideal Gases)
(Kinetic Theory) 
Topic 4 Waves 

4.1 Oscillations 

Understanding 
Applications 
Guidance 
Equations  Link 
Simple harmonic oscillations;
Time period, frequency, amplitude, displacement and phase difference;

Qualitatively describing the energy changes taking place during one cycle of an oscillation;

Graphs describing simple harmonic
motion should include displacement–
Students are expected to understand the
significance of the negative sign in 

(Oscillations) 
4.2 Travelling Waves 

Travelling waves;
Transverse and longitudinal waves;
The nature of electromagnetic waves;
The nature of sound waves. 
Explaining the motion of particles of a medium when a wave passes through it for both transverse and longitudinal cases;
Solving problems involving wave speed, frequency and wavelength; Investigating the speed of sound experimentally. 
Students will be expected to derive the equation c = f λ;
Students should be aware of the order
of magnitude of the wavelengths of
In the notes, travelling waves are referred to as progressive waves. 
c = f λ 
(Wave Features)
(Transverse and Longitudinal) 
4.3 Wave Characteristics 

Wavefronts and rays;
Amplitude and intensity;
Superposition; Polarization. 
Sketching and interpreting diagrams
involving wavefronts and rays; Solving problems involving amplitude, intensity and the inverse square law;

Students will be expected to calculate
the resultant of two waves or pulses Methods of polarization will be restricted to the use of polarizing filters and reflection from a nonmetallic plane surface. 

(Energy)
(Polarisation) (Superposition)
(Mathematical Analysis)
(More Polarisation) 
4.4 Wave Behaviour 

Reflection and refraction;
Snell’s law, critical angle and total internal reflection;
Diffraction through a singleslit and around objects;
Interference patterns;
Doubleslit interference;
Path difference. 
Sketching and interpreting incident,
reflected and transmitted waves at
Solving problems involving reflection at a plane interface;
Solving problems involving Snell’s law,
critical angle and total internal
Determining refractive index experimentally;
Qualitatively describing the diffraction pattern formed when plane waves are incident normally on a singleslit;
Quantitatively describing doubleslit interference intensity patterns 
Quantitative descriptions of refractive
index are limited to light rays passing


(Reflection and Refraction)
(Interference)
(Diffraction)
(More Interference) 
4.5 Standing Waves 

The nature of standing waves;

Describing the nature and formation of
standing waves in terms of
Distinguishing between standing and travelling waves;
Observing, sketching and interpreting standing wave patterns in strings and pipes;
Solving problems involving the frequency of a harmonic, length of the standing wave and the speed of the wave. 
Students will be expected to consider
the formation of standing waves from
Boundary conditions for strings are:
two fixed boundaries; fixed and free
Boundary conditions for pipes are: two
closed boundaries; closed and open
For standing waves in air, explanations will not be required in terms of pressure nodes and pressure antinodes;
These terms are used in the notes. 
(Superposition)
(Standing Waves)
(Musical Sounds)


Topic 5 Electricity and Magnetism 

5.1 Electric Fields 

Understanding 
Applications 
Guidance 
Equations  Link 
Charge;
Electric field;
Coulomb’s law;
Electric current;
Direct current (dc);
Potential difference 
Identifying two forms of charge and the direction of the forces between them;
Solving problems involving electric fields and Coulomb’s law;
Calculating work done in an electric field in both joules and electronvolts;
Identifying sign and nature of charge carriers in a metal;
Identifying drift speed of charge carriers;
Solving problems using the drift speed equation;
Solving problems involving current, potential difference and charge 
Students will be expected to apply
Coulomb’s law for a range of permittivity 

(Electric Force Fields)
(Energy in Fields)
(Electrical Quantities)
(Drift Speed) 
5.2 Heating Effects of Electric Currents 

Circuit diagrams;
Kirchhoff’s circuit laws;
Heating effect of current and its consequences;
Resistance expressed as R = V/I ;
Resistivity;
Power dissipation 
Drawing and interpreting circuit diagrams;
Identifying ohmic and nonohmic conductors through a consideration of the V/I characteristic graph;
Solving problems involving potential difference, current, charge, Kirchhoff’s circuit laws, power, resistance and resistivity;
Investigating combinations of resistors in parallel and series circuits;
Describing ideal and nonideal ammeters and voltmeters;
Describing practical uses of potential divider circuits, including the advantages of a potential divider over a series resistor in controlling a simple circuit;

The filament lamp should be described
as a nonohmic device; a metal wire at
The use of nonideal voltmeters is confined to voltmeters with a constant but finite resistance;
The use of nonideal ammeters is confined to ammeters with a constant but nonzero resistance;
Application of Kirchhoff’s circuit laws will be limited to circuits with a maximum number of two sourcecarrying loops.
The potential divider may be referred to as a voltage divider. 

(Circuit diagrams and meters)
(Ohm's Law)
(VI graphs)
(Resistivity)
(Heating Effect)
(Transducers and Potential Dividers)
(Series and Parallel Circuits, and Kirchhoff) 
5.3 Electric Cells 

Cells;
Internal resistance;
Secondary cells;
Terminal potential difference;
Electromotive force (emf). 
Investigating practical electric cells (both primary and secondary;
Describing the discharge characteristic
of a simple cell (variation of terminal

Students should recognize that the
terminal potential difference of a typical 

(Cells)
(Internal Resistance) 
5.4 Magnetic Effects of Electric Currents 

Magnetic fields;
Magnetic force. 
Determining the direction of force on a charge moving in a magnetic field;
Determining the direction of force on a
currentcarrying conductor in a
Sketching and interpreting magnetic field patterns;
Determining the direction of the magnetic field based on current direction;
Solving problems involving magnetic forces, fields, current and charges. 
Magnetic field patterns will be restricted to long straight conductors, solenoids, and bar magnets. 

(Magnetic Force Fields)
(Forces on Charges) 
Topic 6 Circular Motion and Gravitation 

6.1 Circular Motion 

Understanding 
Applications 
Guidance 
Equations  Link 
Period, frequency, angular displacement and angular velocity;
Centripetal force;
Centripetal acceleration. 
Identifying the forces providing the centripetal forces such as tension, friction, gravitational, electrical, or magnetic;
Solving problems involving centripetal force, centripetal acceleration, period, frequency, angular displacement, linear speed and angular velocity;
Qualitatively and quantitatively describing examples of circular motion including cases of vertical and horizontal circular motion. 
Banking will be considered qualitatively only. 

(Circular Motion)
(Examples) 
6.2 Newton's Laws of Gravitation 

Newton’s law of gravitation;
Gravitational field strength. 
Describing the relationship between gravitational force and centripetal force;
Applying Newton’s law of gravitation to
the motion of an object in circular
Solving problems involving gravitational force, gravitational field strength, orbital speed and orbital period;
Determining the resultant gravitational field strength due to two bodies. 
Newton’s law of gravitation should be
extended to spherical masses of
Gravitational field strength at a point
is the force per unit mass experienced by


(Gravity Fields)
(Orbits) 
Topic 7 Atomic, Particle, and Nuclear Physics 

7.1 Discrete Energy and Radioactivity 

Understanding 
Applications 
Guidance 
Equations  Link 
Discrete energy and discrete energy levels;
Transitions between energy levels;
Radioactive decay;
Fundamental forces and their properties;
Alpha particles, beta particles and gamma rays;
Halflife;
Absorption characteristics of decay particles;
Isotopes;
Background radiation. 
Describing the emission and absorption spectrum of common gases;
Solving problems involving atomic
spectra, including calculating the
Completing decay equations for alpha and beta decay;
Determining the halflife of a nuclide from a decay curve;
Investigating halflife experimentally (or by simulation) 
Students will be required to solve
problems on radioactive decay involving
Students will be expected to include
the neutrino and antineutrino in beta
Fluorescence is discussed in Quantum 5 

(Atoms)
(Radioactivity)
(Electromagnetic Rays)
(Fundamental Forces)
(Ionised and Excited Atoms)
(Energy levels) 
7.2 Nuclear Reactions 

The unified atomic mass unit;
Mass defect and nuclear binding energy;
Nuclear fission and nuclear fusion 
Solving problems involving mass defect and binding energy;
Solving problems involving the energy released in radioactive decay, nuclear fission and nuclear fusion;
Sketching and interpreting the general shape of the curve of average binding energy per nucleon against nucleon number 
Students must be able to calculate
changes in terms of mass or binding
Binding energy may be defined in terms
of energy required to completely
Nuclear Power is discussed in Nuclear 8 
ΔE = Δmc ^{2} 
(Mass and Energy) 
7.3 The Structure of Matter 

Quarks, leptons and their antiparticles;
Hadrons, baryons and mesons;
The conservation laws of charge, baryon number, lepton number and strangeness;
The nature and range of the strong
nuclear force, weak nuclear force and
Feynman diagrams;
Confinement;
The Higgs boson. 
Describing the
RutherfordGeigerMarsden experiment that led to the
Applying conservation laws in particle reactions;
Comparing the interaction strengths of
the fundamental forces, including
Describing the mediation of the fundamental forces through exchange particles;
Sketching and interpreting simple Feynman diagrams;

A qualitative description of the standard model is required. 

(Particles and Antiparticles)
(Leptons)
(Quarks)
(Mesons)
(Baryons)
(Interactions)
(Exchange Particles) 
Topic 8 Energy Production 

8.1 Energy Sources 

Understanding 
Applications 
Guidance 
Equations  Link 
Specific energy and energy density of fuel sources;
Sankey diagrams;
Primary energy sources;
Electricity as a secondary and versatile form of energy;
Renewable and nonrenewable energy sources 
Solving specific energy and energy density problems;
Sketching and interpreting Sankey diagrams;
Describing the basic features of fossil fuel power stations, nuclear power stations, wind generators, pumped storage hydroelectric systems and solar power cells;
Discussing safety issues and risks
associated with the production of
Describing the differences between
photovoltaic cells and solar 
Specific energy has units of J kg^{–1}; energy density has units of J m^{–3} .
In the notes, calorific value is used rather than specific energy. 

(Sankey Diagrams)
(Energy Sources)
(Nuclear Power)
(Energy Sources)
(Fuel Cells) 
8.2 Thermal Energy Transfer 

Conduction, convection and thermal radiation;
Blackbody radiation;
Albedo and emissivity;
The solar constant;
The greenhouse effect;
Energy balance in the Earth surface–atmosphere system. 
Sketching and interpreting graphs showing the variation of intensity with wavelength for bodies emitting thermal radiation at different temperatures;
Solving problems involving the
Stefan–Boltzmann law and Wien’s
Solving problems involving albedo, emissivity, solar constant and the Earth’s average temperature. 
Discussion of conduction and convection will be qualitative only;
Discussion of conduction is limited to intermolecular and electron collisions;
Discussion of convection is limited to
simple gas or liquid transfer via density
The absorption of infrared radiation by
greenhouse gases should be described
The greenhouse gases to be considered
are CH_{4}, H_{2}O, CO_{2} and N_{2}O.
It is
Earth’s albedo varies daily and is
dependent on season (cloud formations) 

(Conduction, Convection, and Radiation)
(Global Temperatures) 
And that is it for the Core syllabus. 