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Faculty - Michael C. Wittmann

Michael Wittmann
Professor of Physics, Cooperating Professor of Education and member of the Center for Research in STEM Education

Michael Wittmann

Michael Wittmann

Office:  223 Bennett Hall
Phone: (207)581-1237


  • 1993 B.S., Duke University, Durham, North Carolina
  • 1996 M.S., University of Maryland, College Park
  • 1998 Ph.D., University of Maryland, College Park

For most recent vita, click here (pdf).

Physics Education Research Laboratory


Duke Alum Michael Wittmann Specializes in Physics Education Research
     Like many physicists, Michael Wittmann(’93) was drawn to the subject because it’s a way of understanding how the world works. But Wittmann is also interested in understanding how teaching and learning work. “I come from a line of teachers and physicists and engineers,” he says. “So I grew up with dinner table conversation about both of those topics.”
To satisfy both of his interests, Wittmann specializes in physics education research (PER) at the University of Maine, where he was recently promoted to full professor. He is a member of the research group at the Physics Education Research Laboratory there, as well as the Center for Research in STEM Education, which he co-founded in 2001. He also co-chairs the biennial Foundations and Frontiers of Physics Education Research conference in Bar Harbor, Maine.
To Wittmann, there’s a little bit of physicist in everyone—or there ought to be. “It irritates me when I’m at a party and someone says, ‘What do you do?’ and I say, ‘I’m a physicist,’ and their response is, ‘Oooh, that’s hard.’ They are forgetting that they are scientists by nature—they have questions about the world, and we can answer them. As a teaching community, we’re missing the boat if people have that reaction.”
For more information, please click here.

Research Interests:

  • Harmonic Oscillation (with John Thompson): investigating student understanding of oscillations, simple harmonic motion, and periodic
    behavior at the introductory and intermediate levels.
  • Quantum Tunneling: using interviews and a survey, we are investigating student understanding of the phenomenon of tunneling
    through a potential barrier, as it is one area where classical and quantum physics make very different predictions.
  • Microscopic Models of Electrical Conductivity: investigating how students use ideas from quantum physics (semi-classical models such as
    the Drude model and quantum models such as band diagrams) to model the flow of charge in a circuit.
  • Understanding the Tools of Physics Education Research: While its important to study students, we also need to step back and consider
    whether the tools we use are appropriate for the questions we are asking. A variety of standardized tests and research methods are
    commonly used in PER. Do they help? What are their limitations? How can we improve their use?
  • Theoretical Models of Learning in Physics: How do students make sense of ideas in physics? What do they use as their toolbox, and why
    do outlandish and counter-intuitive ideas eventually come to make sense? We seek to understand models of reasoning that apply to
    novices, students with difficulties understanding the physics, and experts.

Curriculum development:

  • Activity-Based Tutorials, volumes 1 (Introductory Physics) and 2 (Modern Physics), to be published by Wiley as part of the Physics
    Suite which accompanies the new Cummings, Laws, Redish, and Cooney textbook, Understanding Physics.
  • A General Education Course in Intuitive Quantum Physics: modifying the Activity-Based Tutorials to meet the needs of general education
    students with little experience in science or mathematics.
  • A Graduate Level Course in Physics Education Research (with John Thompson): When teaching both PER and non-PER students about education
    research, we focus on the tools that are used and the body of knowledge that has been developed over the past few decades. In a two-semester
    course, we have students learn the research skills and carry them out on their own research projects. As instructors, we study how well they
    learn to analyze data and how well they understand previous research

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