Intuitive Quantum Physics

A general education course in Intuitive Quantum Physics.

Sponsored in part by NSF grants DUE-0410895

The goal of this project is to improve student conceptual and epistemological knowledge in the sciences while developing a template for formative assessment in a general education course at the University of Maine. A general education course in Intuitive Quantum Physics will be created in which non-science students learn quantum physics through simple observations, basic logical reasoning, and graphical analysis. Materials from three proven curricula will be adapted to include explicit discussions of epistemological issues; students will become aware of their thinking and why they can believe seemingly counter-intuitive ideas. The PI has been co-developer of two of the three curricula that will be adapted to create the Intuitive Quantum Physics course. The Activity-Based Tutorials in wave mechanics were developed in part with NSF funding and have been described in publications and national and international workshops. The New Model Course in Applied Quantum Physics is presently being disseminated internationally after a long and well-documented NSF-funded development phase. Both curricula will soon be published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Materials from Tutorials in Introductory Physics will also be adapted for this project. These three curricula will be modified to apply results from the NSF-funded Learning How to Learn Science project being carried out at the University of Maryland. In this project, the role of students’ epistemologies in learning was studied in an introductory physics course primarily for health and life sciences majors.

Intellectual merit

Materials from these four sources will be modified to create a general education Intuitive Quantum Physics course for non-scientists who generally have weak science and mathematics backgrounds. They will learn quantum physics by observing simple wave phenomena; developing tools for understanding energy, probability, and wave functions; and analyzing wave functions graphically to develop the ideas of quantization, bound states, and tunneling. Learning activities will make connections to real-world reasoning, everyday intuitions, and common sense thinking. Throughout the course, students will be challenged to develop refined epistemologies that help them understand quantum physics. Students will leave the course with deeper understanding of the process of science, confidence in their capacity for seemingly difficult and counter-intuitive physics, and deeper conceptual knowledge of modern physics. Instructors and researchers in the course will use formative and diagnostic assessments to study the process of student learning and the refinement of student epistemologies.

Broader Impact

Results from the course will be shared at the university, state, and national levels. At the University of Maine, general education courses are being revised to include more assessments. This course will serve as a template for the successful use of formative assessments in a course. At the state and national level, there is a strong desire for courses in modern physics. Intuitive Quantum Physics can be such a course, designed to meet the needs of non-scientists by offering a conceptually rich learning environment that helps refine student views of science and their understanding of their own reasoning skills.