Benjamin Brown

  • Graduate Student



Research-based tools to educate college students in physics courses from introductory level to graduate level are essential for helping students with a diverse set of goals and backgrounds learn physics. This thesis explores issues related to student common difficulties with some topics in undergraduate quantum mechanics and thermodynamics courses. Student difficulties in learning quantum mechanics and thermodynamics is investigated by administering written tests and surveys to many classes and conducting individual interviews with a subset of students outside the class to unpack the cognitive mechanism of the difficulties. The quantum mechanics research also focuses on using the research on student difficulties for the development and evaluation of a Quantum Interactive Learning Tutorial (QuILT) to help students learn about the time-dependence of expectation values using the context of Larmor precession of spin and evaluating the role of asking students to self-diagnose their mistakes on midterm examination on their performance on subsequent problem solving. The QuILT on Larmor precession of spin has both paper-pencil activities and a simulation component to help students learn these foundational issues in quantum mechanics. Preliminary evaluations suggest that the QuILT, which strives to help students build a robust knowledge structure of time-dependence of expectation values in quantum mechanics using a guided approach, is successful in helping students learn these topics in the junior-senior level quantum mechanics courses. The technique to help upper-level students in quantum mechanics courses effectively engage in the process of learning from their mistakes is also found to be effective. In particular, research shows that the self-diagnosis activity in upper-level quantum mechanics significantly helps students who are struggling and this activity can reduce the gap between the high and low achieving students on subsequent problem solving. Finally, a survey of Thermodynamic Processes and the First and Second Laws (STPFaSL) is developed and validated with the purpose of evaluating the effectiveness of these topics in a thermodynamics curriculum. The validity and reliability of this survey is discussed and the student difficulties with these topics among various groups from introductory students to physics graduate students is cataloged.






Graduate Advisor

Chandralekha Singh