An Ultimate Guide To The AAPT High School Physics Photo Contest

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

A teacher talking to a student while holding a camera.

The AAPT High School Physics Photo Contest: Igniting Passions and Capturing the Beauty of Science

There’s a certain beauty in the way the physical world works, and the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) has found an innovative way to encourage students to appreciate this beauty. The AAPT High School Physics Photo Contest is an annual competition that invites high school students from around the globe to capture stunning images that demonstrate physics principles in action.

With the contest, the AAPT not only aims to promote physics education but also to inspire creativity and foster an appreciation for the visual aspects of science. In this blog, we’ll delve into the history, goals, and impact of this remarkable contest.

Overview: AAPT High School Physics Photo Contest

The American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) is a professional organization dedicated to enhancing the understanding and appreciation of physics through teaching. Founded in 1930, the AAPT is committed to providing its members with resources and support to promote effective physics education at all levels, from elementary school through graduate school and beyond.

The AAPT’s mission is to advance the greater integration of research-based teaching methods into physics education, to support physics educators by fostering a sense of community and collaboration, and to disseminate knowledge and best practices in physics teaching.

The association achieves these goals by offering professional development opportunities, including workshops, conferences, and webinars, as well as providing access to educational resources, research, and publications.

A teenageer holding his camera.

Additionally, the AAPT plays an active role in advocating for physics education and the importance of science literacy in society. By connecting educators, researchers, and policy-makers, the AAPT contributes to the ongoing improvement and innovation in the field of physics education.

When the AAPT High School Physics Photo Contest was first introduced in 1998, it was a pioneering effort to spark students’ interest in physics by inviting them to explore the world around them through photography. The contest provided a unique platform for young minds to delve into the fascinating principles that govern the physical world. Over the years, it has evolved into an institution that has captured the imagination of both students and educators alike.

The Journey: From Humble Beginnings to Global Impact

In its early days, the contest was a relatively small affair, with a modest number of submissions from high school students within the United States. However, the impact of these early contests was evident in the enthusiastic response from students and teachers. Word quickly spread, and the contest began to gain traction, drawing attention from high schools nationwide.

As the number of submissions grew, the quality and diversity of the entries also expanded. Students began to push the boundaries of their creativity, showcasing the wonders of physics in breathtaking ways. These images captured the magic of the physical world, from the delicate dance of light on a soap bubble to the powerful forces at play within a tornado.

a close up picture of a camera lens

This success did not go unnoticed, and soon the contest expanded to include entries from students around the globe. With each passing year, the AAPT High School Physics Photo Contest became a tapestry of diverse perspectives, showcasing the universal language of physics through the lenses of students from different cultures and backgrounds.

Captivating the Imagination: The Power of the Contest

The longevity of the AAPT High School Physics Photo Contest can be attributed to its ability to ignite students’ interest in physics and inspire their creativity. By encouraging students to view the world through the eyes of a scientist, the contest fosters a sense of curiosity and wonder that transcends the traditional classroom setting.

The contest’s emphasis on creativity and artistic expression has helped shatter the stereotype of physics as a dry, unapproachable subject. It has shown that science can be as beautiful and captivating as any work of art and that the pursuit of knowledge can be a rewarding and engaging journey.

The AAPT High School Physics Photo Contest has also played a crucial role in bridging the gap between students and educators. The contest encourages communication and collaboration between students and their teachers by providing a platform for students to showcase their understanding of physics principles.

This dialogue helps to deepen students’ knowledge of the subject and enables educators to develop innovative ways of teaching complex concepts.

Creating a Legacy: Inspiring the Next Generation of Physicists

As the AAPT High School Physics Photo Contest continues to thrive, it serves as a testament to the power of combining art and science to engage young minds. It has inspired thousands of students to look beyond their textbooks and see the beauty hidden within the physical world.

For many, the contest has been a catalyst that ignited a lifelong passion for physics and inspired them to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Two students talking in front of a laptop.


The contest’s impact on educators has also been significant, as it has provided a unique and powerful tool for teaching physics concepts. By incorporating the contest into their curricula, teachers have been able to create dynamic, interactive learning experiences that capture the attention and imagination of their students.

The AAPT High School Physics Photo Contest has become a cornerstone of physics education, inspiring generations of students to explore the captivating beauty that lies within scientific principles.

Its continued success is a testament to its ability to captivate the imagination of students and educators alike, demonstrating that the world of physics is not only accessible but also truly awe-inspiring.

What are the Goals of the Contest?

The AAPT High School Physics Photo Contest has several key objectives:

Encourage high school students to explore the world of physics through photography, showcasing the beauty of the physical world.

By offering students the opportunity to capture physics principles in action through photography, the contest fosters an appreciation for the aesthetic aspects of science. It allows students to observe and contemplate the physical world from a new perspective, encouraging them to find beauty in seemingly ordinary phenomena.

Smiling students looking at something on a laptop.

This heightened awareness can lead to increased engagement and interest in physics, as students realize that the subject encompasses more than just equations and formulas.

Foster creativity and critical thinking skills by challenging students to identify and capture images that demonstrate physics principles.

The contest pushes students to think critically and creatively in order to identify and capture images that illustrate specific physics concepts. By engaging in this process, students develop problem-solving skills, learn to think laterally and sharpen their observational abilities.

These skills are not only valuable in the realm of physics but are also transferable to other academic disciplines and life situations.

Promote physics education by providing an engaging platform for students to learn about scientific phenomena outside of the traditional classroom setting.

The AAPT High School Physics Photo Contest is an alternative learning platform that complements and enhances traditional physics education. By presenting physics concepts in a visually engaging and relatable manner, the contest helps students better understand and retain complex principles.

This unique approach to learning can make physics more accessible and enjoyable, ultimately increasing students’ motivation to learn and succeed in the subject.

Stimulate curiosity and instill a sense of wonder in students, inspiring them to ask questions and seek answers about the physical world.

The contest encourages students to view the world around them with a sense of wonder and curiosity, motivating them to ask questions and seek answers about the physical world.

This inquisitive mindset is essential for developing a deep understanding of physics concepts and fostering a lifelong passion for learning. By stimulating curiosity, the contest cultivates a generation of students eager to explore and understand the mysteries of the universe.

Facilitate collaboration and communication between students and educators, promoting a deeper understanding of physics concepts.

The AAPT High School Physics Photo Contest creates a platform for students and educators to collaborate and communicate about physics concepts. Through discussions, feedback, and guidance, students can develop a deeper understanding of the principles they are attempting to capture in their photographs.

This collaboration also allows educators to gain insights into students’ thought processes and areas of interest, enabling them to tailor their teaching methods to support better and engage their students.

The AAPT High School Physics Photo Contest’s key objectives have a profound impact on students and educators alike. By fostering creativity, critical thinking, curiosity, and collaboration, the contest enriches the learning experience for students while also providing educators with valuable tools and insights to enhance their teaching methods.

Ultimately, the contest serves as a powerful catalyst for inspiring a passion for physics and promoting the development of well-rounded, inquisitive, and knowledgeable individuals.

How Does the Physics Photo Contest Work?

The competition is open to high school students in grades 9-12 (or an equivalent international grade level). Submissions are accepted annually from March 1 to May 15 for the current year’s contest. Each school can submit a maximum of 15 entries per year. Photos can be entered into one of the two categories outlined below and will be evaluated based on the quality of the image and the academic merit of the accompanying explanation.

The AAPT High School Physics Photo Contest consists of two categories:

Natural: In this category, students submit photos of naturally occurring phenomena that exemplify physics principles. Examples include images capturing fluid dynamics, wave interference, or gravitational lensing.

Contrived: This category allows students to stage situations or use objects to demonstrate physics concepts. Examples include images showing the conservation of angular momentum, projectile motion, or the behavior of light.

Both categories aim to showcase the beauty and intricacy of the physical world while illustrating the underlying physics concepts. To participate, students must be in high school or an equivalent grade level.

Each participant can submit up to three entries, either individually or as part of a team. Images must be original, unaltered (except for cropping and resizing), and accompanied by a description explaining the physics principles illustrated in the photo.

Judging Criteria

A panel of physics educators will choose 100 photos from all the submissions, focusing on finding exceptional images and accompanying descriptions demonstrating learning. The selected entries should showcase students’ ability to think more like experts in understanding and explaining the observed phenomena.

Submissions to the AAPT High School Physics Photo Contest are judged based on the following criteria:

Relevance: The photo must clearly depict a physics concept, with the accompanying description providing an accurate explanation.

Creativity: The image should be imaginative and present the concept uniquely and engagingly.

Technical quality: The photo should be visually appealing, with proper focus, exposure, and composition.

Clarity: The description should be concise, clear, and well-written, effectively conveying the physics concept to a general audience.

Prizes and Recognition

The AAPT High School Physics Photo Contest offers various prizes and awards for the winners:

  • First, second, and third place winners in each category receive cash prizes ( 1st place $100, 2nd place $75, and 3rd place $50), certificates, and recognition on the AAPT website.
  • All winning photos are displayed at the AAPT Summer Meeting, providing students with an opportunity to showcase their work to physics educators and enthusiasts.
  • Select winning images may be featured in AAPT publications, further promoting the beauty and intrigue of physics to a wider audience.
  • The contest fosters a sense of achievement and pride among winners, inspiring them to continue exploring the fascinating world of physics.

What is the Impact of the Physics Photo Contest on Students and Educators?

The AAPT High School Physics Photo Contest has profoundly impacted students and educators. By blending art and science, the contest has helped break down barriers and alter the perception of physics as an intimidating and inaccessible subject.

Three students talking while sitting on a bench.

For students, the contest provides an opportunity to explore and engage with physics in an enjoyable and approachable manner. It encourages them to view the world with a critical and curious eye, seeking out moments where science reveals itself in everyday life. This heightened sense of observation and inquiry can contribute to a lifelong interest in science, potentially shaping future educational and career choices.

Educators also benefit from the contest, as it offers a unique way to introduce and reinforce physics concepts. By incorporating the contest into their curricula, teachers can create interactive and dynamic learning experiences beyond the textbook.

The visual nature of the contest helps students better grasp abstract concepts, making physics more tangible and relatable. Additionally, the contest can foster a sense of camaraderie and healthy competition among students, further enriching the learning environment.

Expanding Horizons: The Contest’s Global Reach

The AAPT High School Physics Photo Contest has expanded its reach over the years, welcoming submissions from international students. This global participation adds cultural diversity and richness to the contest, highlighting the universal nature of physics principles.

As students from different countries and backgrounds contribute their unique perspectives, the contest becomes a melting pot of creativity, fostering an appreciation for both the similarities and differences in the way we perceive and interact with the physical world.

In Conclusion

The AAPT High School Physics Photo Contest provides a unique and engaging platform that invites high school students to delve into the captivating realm of physics.

By skillfully integrating the visual arts with scientific concepts, the contest sparks a passion for learning and cultivates a deep appreciation for the inherent beauty of the physical world. This innovative approach to education demonstrates that science is not only within reach for students but also a truly awe-inspiring subject that can capture their imagination.

At the heart of the AAPT High School Physics Photo Contest lies a steadfast commitment to nurturing curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking skills in its participants. The contest encourages students to observe and analyze their surroundings, challenging them to capture moments where physics principles come to life in everyday scenarios.

This hands-on, interactive learning experience not only fosters a deeper understanding of scientific concepts but also helps students develop problem-solving abilities and observational skills that are invaluable in their future academic and professional pursuits.

By continuously inspiring students and educators, the AAPT High School Physics Photo Contest plays a vital role in making the world of physics more accessible and enthralling for generations to come.

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