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Faculty - John Thompson

John R. Thompson John Thompson
Associate Professor of Physics,
Cooperating Associate Professor of Education
, and member of the Center for Research in STEM Education

Office:  223 Bennett Hall
Phone: (207)581-1030

  • 1990  B.S. in Physics (cum laude), Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • 1992  Sc.M. in Physics, Brown University
  • 1998  Ph.D. in Physics, Brown University

Physics Education Research Laboratory


Physics Education Research – research on the learning and teaching of physics – including research-based curriculum development.  Co-manage research group of 15-20 members, including undergraduates, master’s and doctoral students, and faculty.

Current active research topics:

  • Student understanding of thermal physics at advanced undergraduate levels in physics, especially:
    • entropy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics
    • student models for entropy, in the context of ideal gas processes
    • student application of the Second Law to heat engines and thermodynamic cyclic processes
    • comparisons of student entropy models across disciplines (chemistry, chemical engineering, and physics)
    • The relationship between conceptual understanding in physics and knowledge of the associated and underlying mathematics
    • integration in the context of process variables and state functions
    • partial differentiation in the contexts of material properties and the Maxwell relations
    • probability in the context of statistical distributions
  • Understanding of teaching and learning in physics by graduate students and teachers, and the interplay between specialized content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge (knowledge of the teaching and learning of a topic).
  • Student understanding of vectors and vector operations.
  • Student understanding of two-dimensional kinematics, including the context dependence of that understanding and the interpretations of different representations. Development and assessment of curriculum that emphasizes conceptual understanding and transfer to different contexts.
  • Conceptual understanding of sound at both the introductory level and among preservice and inservice K-12 teachers. Development of curriculum on sound aimed at elementary teachers, and on longitudinal waves aimed at introductory physics students

Other topics of interest:

  • Student understanding of magnetic fields and representations thereof, and in particular of the magnetic structure of flexible refrigerator magnets
  • Student understanding of concepts in 9th- and 12th-grade physics courses:  investigating the Physics First movement

Selected Publications:

M.J. O’Brien and J.R. Thompson, “Effectiveness of ninth-grade physics in Maine: Conceptual understanding,” The Physics Teacher 47(4), 234-239 (2009).

M.C. Wittmann and J.R. Thompson, “Integrated approaches in physics education: A graduate level course in physics, pedagogy, and education research,” American Journal of Physics 76(7), 677-683 (2008).


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