Department of Physics and Astronomy

Understanding Physical Phenomena

Researcher demonstrating a heat camera

How do students understand physical phenomena and how can learning experiences be constructed to facilitate such understanding?

In this research we investigate how students understand physical phenomena. We identify specific challenges in learning physics and related areas and design, implement, and evaluate teaching to address these issues. The research includes, but is not limited to, the learning of mechanics, electromagnetism and thermodynamics.  

Current Projects

  • Chemical engineering students’ ideas of entropy
    Through questionnaires and interviews, we investigate engineering students’ ideas of entropy before and after a course in chemical thermodynamics. We take a particular interest in the student's use of different metaphors, such as entropy as disorder. 
  • The role and potential of computer-based tools in the learning of physics
    In this project we are interested in developing and applying theoretical principles for using computer-based tools to support the learning of physics in new and productive ways. One of the tools we are especially interested in is the interactive whiteboard. 
  • Thermal cameras in school laboratory activities
    In a design-based research programme, we investigate primary and secondary students’ engagement with laboratory exercises by means of infrared cameras. The exercises have been designed to target understanding of thermal phenomena and concepts, including temperature and heat conduction vs. insulation. 
  • The pedagogical value of conceptual metaphor for secondary science teachers
    In collaboration with Seattle Pacific University, we participate in a study of how a group of in-service teachers come to appreciate the conceptual metaphor framework in understanding students’ language in relation to energy.
  • Ranking Tasks
    Internationally, ranking tasks have been shown to be useful in Physics Education Research. In this work we develop and use ranking tasks in Swedish undergraduate science evaluating their effectiveness with respect to contemporary theories of learning.​
  • Entropy and ‘energy quality’ in Swedish curricula
    In collaboration with Linköping University, we are part of a curriculum study on how the second law of thermodynamics has been addressed in Swedish natural science, physics, chemistry and technology curricula at the secondary level from about 1980 and onwards.

Collaboration and Practice

Our research is being carried out in collaboration with the Department of Chemistry at Uppsala University; colleagues from the Faculty for Mathematics and Physics at the University of Ljubljana and the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University; researchers, physics student-teachers, and school teachers associated with both Uppsala and Linköping University and the Concord Consortium, a nonprofit educational research and development organization based in Concord, Massachusetts; and, researchers at the College of Engineering, University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign.

We design laboratory activities for university thermodynamics courses involving infrared cameras, and study the implementation of the activities in physics and engineering courses. In the activities, students are encouraged to investigate the function of chosen experimental set-ups, such as a heat pump, through open-ended inquiry.

We collaborate with the designers of the Interactive Online Lab device (IOLab) to explore how to optimize enhancing students’ understanding of fundamental physics. The IOLab contains sensors for light, sound, atmospheric pressure, temperature, accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, distance and force. 

Jesper Haglund, in collaboration with Tamer Amin, American University of Beirut, and Fredrik Jeppsson, Linköping University, have coordinated a special issue on the theme “Embodied cognition and conceptual metaphor in science education” for the International Journal of Science Education, published in the spring of 2015 (see 'Highlight' box on this page). Our own contribution to the special issue involves an analysis of how chemistry PhD students and undergraduates coordinate intuitive, non-formal resources, with formal language-based or mathematical resources in problem solving in thermodynamics.