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Science Projects: Light and Optics

This light and optics science project article is focuses on this subset of physics science projects. You'll find information on science projects involving light and optics for 1st-4th grades, 5th-8th grades, and 9th-12th grades.

Light and optics - a subset of Physics - are the subjects for this collection of science projects. Aimed at extending students’ textbook and classroom learning these science projects are designed to be modified if necessary to make them suitable to a) your curriculum, b) your child, c) a different grade level. Consider them as workable ideas or jumping off points: it’s your choice.

1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Grade

Tips: Provide help as needed for planning and execution of these projects. This may include learning how to use tools or assistance in recording results or keeping track of data collection.

  • Use a prism to see what makes white light. Then use spray from a hose to break up sunlight and compare the results.
  • Create your own mnemonic for remembering how to differentiate concave and convex lenses.
  • Look at the world through various lenses, both indoors and outside. What do you notice?
  • Make a chart showing uses for a magnifying glass, uses for binoculars, and uses for a microscope.
  • Find out the reasoning behind the color choices for emergency vehicles, vehicle headlights, streetlights, and/or foglights.

5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th Grade

Tips: Students in this age band can complete projects with growing independence. Nevertheless, you may wish to follow along at a distance to make sure they aren’t running into problems.

  • Use a prism to see what makes white light. Then use RGB and CMYK color slides on a computer to create white. Then try paint, crayons, or another art medium. Compare the results.
  • Design an experiment to compare the effectiveness of various blocking devices to keep sunlight out of parked or moving cars.
  • Explain the coloration of the cloudless sky: blue during the day; black at night; various colors at sunrise and sunset.
  • Draw a diagram showing the reasons for both a) a rainbow and b) a double rainbow.
  • Make a model of a light wave.
  • Build a teleidoscope or kaleidoscope. Write a manual explaining how it works.
  • Create an illustration showing the different kinds of light and their descriptions and uses.

9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th Grade

Tips: At the high school level, projects can be adapted to fit advanced curriculum such as Advanced Placement (AP) courses or to allow a student the opportunity to really delve into a new-found or long-standing area of interest. Scheduling is important, so plan periodic check-ins.

  • Design a use for light that involves either reflection, refraction, or both.
  • Create an experiment with a camera that will allow you to create a chart for yourself with indications of appropriate film speeds, shutter speeds, etc. that will lead to good pictures in different lighting situations.
  • Create a model that elucidates the appearance of mirages.
  • Write an analytic report on the twenty-first century testing of Archimedes’ proposal to use mirrored light to burn a boat undertaken by Mythbusters and MIT. You can start here:
  • Design a new application for lasers.
  • Build a tool with lenses, for example, a telescope or microscope.
  • Do an analytic comparison of different light sources (e.g., sun, various types of light bulbs, candles, LED’s, radioactive particles, etc.), noting their properties, uses, hazards, etc.
  • Interview forensic specialists about their use of spectroscopy in their work.
  • Take a photograph using film. Process it in various ways in your own dark room, choose your five favorite results, and explain the processes you used to achieve them.
  • Assess the impact of the telescope as a tool in our understanding of and knowledge of space.
  • Explain the disinfectant properties of light and uses of this property.
  • Explain the sunscreen labeling system and propose any changes that would improve sunscreen classification.
  • Diagram the different functions and uses of standard types of camera lenses, such as wide-angle, fisheye, telephoto, macro, etc.