Physics colloquium: Physics Education Research as an example of a core physics research methodology: The role of “humble theories”

  • Date: –12:00
  • Location: Ångströmlaboratoriet, Lägerhyddsvägen 1 Häggsalen/Zoom:
  • Lecturer: Professor Saalih Allie
  • Organiser: Division of Physics Education Research, Department of Physics and Astronomy
  • Contact person: Cedric Linder
  • Seminarium

Physics colloquium with Professor Saalih Allie from Department of Physics, University of Cape Town, South Africa.

The colloquium will be held in English.

Photo: Anne Linder.

From a distance, traditional physics research and physics education research (PER) appear to be very different research activities. The obvious difference is that traditional physics research activity deals largely with describing the nature of inanimate phenomena while PER deals with people. However, the ways in which the two enterprises are carried out have strong methodological similarities. Here, I will focus on how they both place an emphasis on empirical data and on “mid-level”, pragmatic theorizing. Analogies and metaphors also play central roles in creating such “humble theories”. In the collegium I will contrast examples from experimental nuclear physics and PER to illustrate the productive interplay between experiment and “humble theories”. To do so I will refer to the liquid drop and shell models in nuclear physics, and for PER I will discuss examples that relate to student understanding of measurement and uncertainty (point and set paradigms). I will also draw on some examples from electricity and astronomy. In this way I will illustrate how such “humble theories” pave the way to attaining a greater understanding of complex phenomena and guide further data collection.

Saalih Allie is Professor at the University of Cape Town, where he has held joint positions in the Department of Physics and the Academic Development Programme since 1986. He holds a PhD in experimental nuclear physics from the University of Cape Town, was a Mandela Fellow at Harvard in 2000, and is presently Co-Director of the South African National Astrophysics and Space Science Programme.

The spectrum of his activities, include issues of underrepresentation, access and throughput with regard to South African students from socially and educationally disadvantaged backgrounds. In 2008, as part of an equity initiative, he established a postgraduate bridging programme for “non-traditional – first generation” students from across South Africa who wish to pursue studies in Astronomy and Space Science.

The broad focus of his present research is in PER and AER probing student engagement in physics and astronomy. Specific areas of interest include laboratory work, measurement and uncertainty, electromagnetic theory, astronomical distances and immersive environments. He is presently an Associate Editor of The Physical Review Physics Education Research.

Saalih Alle