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Faculty - John Thompson

John R. Thompson John R. 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
URL: Physics Education Research Laboratory


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


Research Interests:

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 and statistical physics at advanced undergraduate levels in physics, especially:
    • Work and its interpretation via pressure-volume diagrams
    • entropy and the second law of thermodynamics
    • student models for entropy, in the context of ideal gas processes
    • comparisons of student entropy models across disciplines (physics, chemistry, engineering)
    • heat engines and the Carnot cycle
    • the comparison of the teaching and learning of thermodynamics in
    • parallel courses in physics and in engineering (mechanical, chemical)
    • student conceptual understanding
    • discipline-specific tools and approaches (e.g., /P-V/ diagrams, equations of state, steam tables)
    • pedagogical approaches
  • The relationship between conceptual understanding in physics and knowledge of the associated and underlying mathematics, including:
    • 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 and physical science by graduate students and K‑12 teachers, and the interplay between specialized content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge(knowledge of the teaching and learning of a topic), including knowledge of student ideas.
  • Current focus of content for in-service grades 6-9 teachers is kinematics and dynamics


Selected Publications:

R. R. Bajracharya and J. R. Thompson, “Student application and understanding of the fundamental theorem of calculus at the mathematics-physics interface,” /Proceedings of the 17th Annual Conference on Research in Undergraduate Mathematics Education/ (Mathematical Association of America, 2014).

J. W. Clark, J. R. Thompson, and D. B. Mountcastle, “Investigating Student Conceptual Difficulties in Thermodynamics Across Multiple Disciplines: The First Law and P-V Diagrams,” /Proceedings of 121st ASEE/ (American Society for Engineering Education) /Annual Conference and Exposition/(2014).

T.I. Smith, J.R. Thompson and D.B. Mountcastle, “Student Understanding of Taylor Series Expansions in Statistical Mechanics,” Physical Review Special Topics – Physics Education Research 9, 020110 (2013).

J. W. Clark, J. R. Thompson and D. B. Mountcastle, “Comparing Student Conceptual Understanding of Thermodynamics in Physics and Engineering,” in 2012 Physics Education Research Conference, P.V. Engelhardt, A.D. Churukian, N.S. Rebello, eds., AIP Conference Proceedings 1513, 102-105 (2013). doi:

W.M. Christensen and J.R. Thompson, “Investigating graphical representations of slope and derivative without a physics context,” Phys. Rev. ST Physics Ed. Research 8, 023101 (2012).

R. R. Bajracharya, T. M. Wemyss, J. R. Thompson, “Student interpretation of the signs of definite integrals using graphical representations,” in 2011 Physics Education Research Conference, C. Singh, N.S. Rebello, P. Engelhardt, eds., AIP Conference Proceedings 1413, 111-114 (2012). Finalist, 2011 PERC (Physics Education Research Conference) Proceedings Paper Award, given by the Physics Education Research Leadership and Organizing Committee. Selected as a finalist because it is noteworthy in terms of the quality of research, readability and impact on the PER Community.

J.R. Thompson, W.M. Christensen, and M.C. Wittmann, “Preparing future teachers to anticipate student difficulties in physics in a graduate-level course in physics, pedagogy, and education research,” Physical Review Special Topics – Physics Education Research 7, 010108 (2011),; reprinted in Teacher Education in Physics: Research, Curriculum, and Practice, D.E. Meltzer and P.S. Shaffer, Eds., pp. 91-102 (American Physical Society, 2011),  (This book was distributed to every physics department chair in the United States.)



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