I am interested in how students behave in inquiry-based physics labs. I am trying to understand the motivations behind students’ behavior, especially their use of scientific practices, and what we can do to make labs more beneficial for all students. As we would expect, many students use labs to practice scientific work but we also see many students that do not use that opportunity. For example, we see a lot of students designing experiments that aim to confirm equations they already know from lectures. While trying to confirm equations that are only approximately true, we see students using questionable research practices to make their data fit the theory.
Another project I am working on is students’ understanding of uncertainty in quantum mechanics. In quantum mechanics, uncertainty is an integral part of the theory and there are fundamental limits to how well we can measure some quantities experimentally. We find that students have difficulties disentangling experimental sources of uncertainty like the precision of the measurement equipment from fundamental sources of uncertainty like the position-momentum uncertainty relation. We are trying to see if there is a connection between how students interpret uncertainty in classical mechanics and quantum mechanics to further understand these difficulties.