Feeling as if there is too much in the universe to learn? We’re here to help run you through all there is to know about HSC Physics Module 8: From the Universe to the Atom.

We’ll be taking a deeper dive into previous concepts covered already such as the;

  • Model of the Atom
  • Nuclear Reactions
  • Alpha, Beta & Gamma Decay

We’ll also cover a wide range of new concepts from Quantum Mechanics to even more subatomic particles.

On top of that, we’ll walk you through the changes from the old syllabus and explain each of the inquiry questions, with tips on how to ace HSC Physics Module 8: From the Universe to the Atom!

So, what are you waiting for? Let’s dive in!

Changes from the Old Syllabus
What’s there to Learn in this Module?
Overview of HSC Physics Module 8
Inquiry Question 1
Inquiry Question 2
Inquiry Question 3
Inquiry Question 4
Inquiry Question 5
Tips on how to get a Band 6 in HSC Physics Module 8

Changes from the Old Syllabus

This topic is a refresh of the old elective, Quanta to Quarks, with a few new elements taken from other topics or newly introduced.

You begin the topic with a historic look at where the elements originated from whist we also mimic the Quanta to Quarks elective as we take a deep dive into the atom.

What’s there to Learn in this Module?

  1. You look at where elements have originated from, including the processes these elements take part in whilst in stars.
  2. You go back to the basics of the atom including protons, neutrons and electrons.
  3. You look at how classical physics doesn’t explain everything we know about the atom
  4. You harness the energy of a nucleus and cover the different types of decay.
  5. What we know about the atom is incomplete, you look at the progress towards the Standard Model of Matter

Overview of HSC Physics Module 8

Inquiry Question 1: What evidence is there for the origins of the elements?

Here we cover what happened after the Big Bang as radiation transformed into matter. You cover Hubble’s evidence towards the expansion of the universe whilst also analysing emission and absorption spectra of different elements.

Next, you analyse the Hertzprung-Russel diagram and how we use stellar spectra to describe the different characteristics of stars and classify them.

Nucleosynthesis reactions also appear as you analyse how Main Sequence and Post-Main Sequence stars and the processes involved, including the proton-proton chain and the CNO cycle reactions in their respective stars.

Inquiry Question 2: How is it known that atoms are made of protons, neutrons and electrons?

Here we look at Cathode Ray Tubes, Thomson’s Charge-to-Mass experiment and Milikan’s Oil Drop experiment to describe the mass and degree of charge of electrons. 

Milikan’s Oil Drop experiment

Furthermore, you focus on the centre of an atom, the nucleus and how we know what is contained within.

You cover how the gold foil (Gieger-Marsden) experiment reveals that most of the atom is empty space, how Rutherford put together his findings into a model of the atom and also Chadwick’s discovery of a “new type of radiation”, which later was the presence of neutrons in an atom.

Inquiry Question 3: How is it known that classical physics cannot explain the properties of the atom?

As you study the atom, the original classical model doesn’t explain all we know. You cover the limitations of the Rutherford and Bohr atomic models, such as how quantised energy is not explained, how the Zeeman effect couldn’t make sense or why the lines are not of the same brightness.

Next, we continue the idea of quantised energy levels through the Balmer series of hydrogen, de Broglie’s matter waves and the equations we use to analyse these energy levels. Schrodinger also makes an appearance as he describes the probability of an electron in a certain position outside the atom.

If you’re having trouble understanding this inquiry question, check out this helpful YouTube video here!

Inquiry Question 4: How can the energy of the atomic nucleus be harnessed?

Here we look at the spontaneous decay of unstable nuclei. We analyse the half-life model of radioactive decay and the equations to go with the model, including how to find the decay constant. 

You also analyse the different types of decay including the mass-energy equivalence of alpha, beta and gamma decay.

You also look at this equivalence in regards to nuclear fission and fusion reactions. Nuclear fission is another topic you analyse further, as you consider how controlled and uncontrolled chain reactions lead to the vastly different outcomes of nuclear power generation or deadly atomic bombs.

Inquiry Question 5: How is it known that human understanding of matter is still incomplete?

Here, you discover that protons and neutrons are not fundamental particles and that both are made of even smaller building blocks. You look at evidence from particle accelerators that suggest that protons and neutrons are no longer fundamental which leads to the Standard Model of matter.

Finally, you cover the Standard Model of Matter and how quarks, leptons and fundamental forces all merge together to form the Standard Model. We look at how quarks combine to form the protons and neutrons you have known for the entirety of high school.

3 Tips on how to get a Band 6 in HSC Physics Module 8: From the Universe to the Atom

Tip #1: Remember Quantised Energy Levels

When talking about quantised energy levels, electrons can only exist at the energy levels (shells) that complete a full standing wave around the nucleus.

The levels (distance from the nucleus) that do not complete a full standing wave do not exist and hence explain why these discrete levels exist. 

Tip #2: Know Your Mass and Energy Conservation

A large amount of this topic is spent analysing Einstein’s Mass and Energy equivalence, E=mc^2.

It is important to remember that energy and mass are conserved together, not just one or the other by themselves.

Tip #3: Recall the Standard Model

The Standard Model proves a useful tool to explain the 6 quarks, 6 leptons and four bosons (fundamental forces).

It is important to note that this model doesn’t fully explain matter, since the force of gravity (or the concept of a graviton) doesn’t fit the theory and hence a “Theory of Everything” is yet to be found with our incomplete knowledge.

Standard Model of Elementary Particles

And that wraps up our guide to HSC Physics Module 8: From the Universe to the Atom – good luck!

You can also check out our other HSC Physics guides below:

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Sean Stephen graduated in 2018 with an ATAR of 97.1 and is currently studying a Bachelor of Actuarial Studies / Bachelor of Commerce (Accounting and Finance) at UNSW. Beginning at Art of Smart in 2019, Sean works across the Resource Design, Innovation and Blogging Teams to support thousands of students throughout their HSC. When away from studying, Sean enjoys everything pop culture from videogames to TV, music and movies.