Friday, February 22, 2008

A Deeper Look at Student Learning of Quantum Mechanics: the Case of Tunneling

This preprint, co-authored by Nobel Laureate Carl Wieman, looks at the difficulties that students had in understanding quantum tunneling.

Abstract: We report on a qualitative study of student learning of quantum tunneling in traditional and reformed modern physics courses. In the reformed courses, which were designed to address student difficulties found in previous research, students still struggle with many of the same issues found in other courses, but the reasons for these difficulties are more subtle, and many new issues are brought to the surface. By explicitly discussing how to build models of potential energy and relate these models to real physical systems, we have opened up a floodgate of deep and difficult questions as students struggle to make sense of these models. We conclude that the difficulties found in previous research are the tip of the iceberg, and the real issue at the heart of student difficulties in learning quantum tunneling is the struggle to build the complex models that are implicit in experts' understanding but often not discussed explicitly with students.

It's a lengthy paper, and I'm still reading it. But it is interesting that you get to learn quite a bit more about quantum tunneling in here, especially on aspects that are quite subtle.

Let me know what you think...


1 comment:

okham said...

I don't know... it is never clear to me at what exactly this type of discussion is aimed, which is why I have such a hard time relating to "physics education"...
I admit that that is my own bias, but the notion that quantum tunneling, a phenomenon whose depth and application are truly remarkable, can be conveyed and rendered totally understandable in just one hour or two worth of lectures, as long as it is presented in the "right way", seems really simplistic.
My experience is that it takes time to assimilate concepts; the same things have to be heard several times, rehashed, presented from different points of view. And most importantly, one has to think about it on one's own.