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Group Members - John R. Thompson

John R. Thompson, PhD
Associate Professor of Physics
Cooperating Associate Professor of Education223 Bennett Hall
Orono, ME 04469Office Phone: (207) 581-1030
Email: thompsonj<at>

John earned a B.S. in physics in 1990 from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, a Master’s in physics from Brown University in 1992, and a Ph.D. in physics from Brown in 1998. His doctoral dissertation was in the area of surface physics.

John started working in PER in the fall of 1997 as a postdoctoral research associate with the Physics Education Group at the University of Washington (Seattle, WA). From 2000-2002, John was a faculty member at Grand Valley State University, in Allendale, MI, near Grand Rapids. He’s been part of the Physics Education Research Laboratory since 2002, earning tenure and promotion in 2008.

John’s research interests include empirical investigations of student understanding of thermal and statistical physics at the advanced undergraduate level. He is PI on a grant project working with colleagues at UMaine and across the country conducting research and developing curricular materials in this area. This work has led to a related interest in the application of mathematics concepts in physics, especially in thermal and statistical physics.

John is one of the co-organizers of the Transforming Research in Undergraduate STEM Education (TRUSE) Conferences, bringing together researchers in physics, mathematics, and chemistry education, as well as some biology , engineering, earth science, and computer science education researchers for a week-long conference.

His other major interest is the understanding of teaching and learning in physics by current and future teachers, especially the interplay between specialized content knowledge and knowledge of student ideas.

As cooperating faculty at the Maine Center for Research in STEM Education (RiSE Center), John is a co-PI in the Maine Physical Sciences Partnership, a regional collaboration to improve physical science learning and teaching in grades 6-9, as well as reform of university science courses and increased recruitment of science teachers from STEM majors.

Curriculum Vitae

Webpage at the Department of Physics and Astronomy

Selected Recent Publications

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.

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

J. F. Wagner, C. A. Manogue, and J. R. Thompson, “Representation issues: Using mathematics in upper-division physics,” in 2011 Physics Education Research Conference, C. Singh, N.S. Rebello, P. Engelhardt, eds., AIP Conference Proceedings 1413, 89-92 (2012).

J. M. Hawkins, B. W. Frank, J. R. Thompson, and M. C. Wittmann, and T. M. Wemyss, “Probing student understanding with alternative questioning strategies”, in 2011 Physics Education Research Conference, C. Singh, N.S. Rebello, P. Engelhardt, eds., AIP Conference Proceedings 1413, 207-210 (2012).

T. M. Wemyss, R. R. Bajracharya, J. R. Thompson, and J. F. Wagner, “Student understanding of integration in the context and notation of thermodynamics: Concepts, representations, and transfer,” in Proceedings of the 14th Annual Conference on Research in Undergraduate Mathematics Education, eds. S. Brown, S. Larsen, K. Marrongelle, M. Oehrtman (Mathematical Association of America, 2011).

T.I. Smith, J.R. Thompson and D.B. Mountcastle, “Addressing Student Difficulties with Statistical Mechanics: The Boltzmann Factor,” in 2010 Physics Education Research Conference, M. Sabella, C. Singh, N.S. Rebello, eds., AIP Conference Proceedings 1289, 305-308 (2010).

  • Finalist, 2010 PERC Proceedings Paper Award
  • Cited in Discipline-Based Education Research: Understanding and Improving Learning in Undergraduate Science and Engineering, Susan R. Singer, Natalie R. Nielsen, and Heidi A. Schweingruber, Editors; Committee on the Status, Contributions, and Future Directions of Discipline-Based Education Research; Board on Science Education; Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education; National Research Council (2012);

List of all publications


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The Physics Education Research Laboratory
Phone: (207) 581-1237 and (207) 581-1030
E-mail: and
The University of Maine
Orono, Maine 04469