Physics Department: REU Projects - Physics Education

Dr. Micha Kilburn
Email: mkilburn (at)

This project includes independent physics education research investigating elementary students' affective view of science changes as they age, and whether gender is a factor. Data has been collected from outreach programs of the Joint Institute for Nuclear Astrophysics - Center for the Evolution of Elements and analysis will use the same software package used by experimental particle physicists, a transferable skill to any subfield. This work is expected to form the basis for a publication. In addition to analyzing data, the project includes first hand experience in teaching students (grades 3-12) during these outreach programs.

Dr. Abigail Mechtenberg
Email: amechten (at)

The majority of researchers in introductory physics education primarily focus on teaching and learning theories that are based on the assumptions that physics knowledge flows from motion to forces to fields and barely touches on energy fundamentally. This research project works to deconstruct this paradigm’s progression. A REU student will participate in a physics education project that focuses on evaluating (1) Mechtenberg’s physics majors lecture class notes and (2) physics of energy AAPT laboratory-based workshops that starts with Noether's Theorem and re-adjusts historical chapters towards conservation of energy from mechanical, to electrical, to optical, to thermal, to chemical and atomic energy (from a physicists perspective of molecular and atomic bonds). The focus of this physics education group is two fold. First, this research looks to be part of fulfilling the Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment and participate in averting the Sixth Extinction by creating a new course to teach students sustainable energy systems from a physicists point of view (no policy nor economics involved). Second, this research’s goal is to empower physics educators in Africa to move away from physics as theory and into physics for saving lives. This part of the project invites REU students to call African physics teachers and organize new publications to be submitted in journals like American Journal of Physics (AJP).