What do students do?

Vicphysics Teachers’ Network established a competition for Year 10 Science and Year 11 physics students. In the course of the year, in teams of three, students will carry out three experimental investigations, then later in the year, present and defend their findings in scientific discussions with other teams. They also critique the presentation of other teams.

The tournament was last conducted in 2017. It wasto be held again in 2022 at the University of Melbourne.

The problems for investigation in 2022 were:

  • Conical Piles Non-adhesive granular materials can be poured such that they form a cone-like pile. Investigate the parameters that affect the formation of the cone and the angle it makes with the ground.
  • Saxon Bowl A bowl with a hole in its base will sink when placed in water. The Saxons used this device for timing purposes. Investigate the parameters that determine the time of sinking
  • Falling Tower: Identical discs are stacked one on top of another to form a freestanding tower. The bottom disc can be removed by applying a sudden horizontal force such that the rest of the tower will drop down onto the surface and the tower remains standing. Investigate the phenomenon and determine the conditions that allow the tower to remain standing.

Here are some Guide questions and hints to assist students in getting started.

Resources for the three problems

Conical Piles
Wikipedia article on the angle of repose.
Methods on determining the angle of respose from Sciencing magazine.
Youtube video on sand experiments.
Youtube video from the Science of Toys.
Saxon Bowl
Saxon Bowl Youtube. This video shows one way of conducting the investigation, it has been prepared for the Canadian YPT.
Falling Tower
Falling Tower Youtube. This video shows different examples of knocking away the bottom disc, it has been prepared for the Canadian YPT.
Is it possible to remove the last block from a the lowest layer of a Jenga tower?. This question was posted on a physics blog. There are a few responses.
How quickly would you have to pull to remove an entire floor in Jenga? This question was posted on a reddit blog. There are a few responses.
Some advice on doing investigations. The document covers planning possible equipment, measuring and analysing data.


University students are available to be a mentor. Ask your teacher to arrange for one. They will be available for two one hour sessions, either face to face or on-line, once after you have got started and later when you are finalising your analysis and preparing your report. They can also respond to any email queries through your teacher.

Important Dates:

Tournament Date:


Physics Dept, University of Melbourne


There will be a trophy for the school of the winning team.
There will book prizes and book vouchers for the members of the top three teams, as well as book vouchers for the members of all other teams.

Videos of the Tournament

At the 2014 Victorian Young Physicists’ Tournament, Terry Tan from John Monash Science School videoed the competition as did some of the other teachers. Terry has edited the footage into two packages, i) a short one using extracts from different contests to show the key features of a contest and ii) a longer one of one complete contest. See links below.

Short video of Victorian Young Physicists’ Tournament
A longer video of Victorian Young Physicists’ Tournament

The Vicphysics Committee appreciates the tremendous amount of work by Terry in chasing up school approvals and then editing the material into these packages.

Organisation of a Tournament

Judging criteria 59.9 kB

Assessment criteria to be used by the judges for VYPT contests. There is a separate criteria sheet for each of the roles of Report and Critique. Teams should read through the criteria to ensure their presentations cover them.

Lunch will be provided as well as morning and afternoon teas.

Each team will compete in six contests, three as presenter and three as opponent. Each member of a team will present on one topic and oppose on another.

Each contest will be judged by a panel of 3 people, which will include at least one teacher. At the end of the contest, the judges are encouraged to ask questions of both teams before each deciding on their scores.

Each contest lasts about 30 minutes. There are specified time limits for different sections within the 30 minutes to ensure comparable judging.

ActivityDuration in mins
Reporter prepares, plugs in laptop, USB etc.3 min
Reporter presents10 min
Opponent asks clarifying questions2 min
Opponent prepares3 min
Opponent critiques for up to 5 minutes, argues with reporter for remainder of the time.10 min
Reporter prepares concluding remarks1 min
Reporter makes concluding remarks2 min
Jury questions and grading4 min =total 35min

Advice for teams on conducting a contest will be available by the end of Term 1.
The six contests proceed through the day starting about 9:30am and finishing about 3:30pm.