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Abstract Title: Investigating how graduate students connect microstates and macrostates with entropy
Abstract: As a first step in a larger study of student difficulties in upper-division thermal physics, we conducted think-aloud interviews with 8 physics graduate students to probe their understanding of entropy. In this paper, we'll discuss results from a question which presented students with a novel system---a string in a bath of water---and asked students to rank the probabilities of particular arrangements of the string, define macrostates of the system, and discuss specifically what is meant by the entropy of the system. Exploring graduate students' understanding of entropy and their ability to solve problems and reason with entropic arguments will provide insights into how physicists develop a mature understanding of entropy as a physical quantity. We find a tendency for graduate students to project properties of macrostates onto constituent microstates and other similar difficulties. We discuss connections to other research in this field and identify observations warranting further study.
Abstract Type: Contributed Poster Presentation
Session Time: Poster Session III
Poster Number: 3.K2
Contributed Paper Record: Contributed Paper Information
Contributed Paper Download: Download Contributed Paper

Author/Organizer Information

Primary Contact: Nate Crossette
University of Colorado - Boulder
and Co-Presenter(s)
Michael Vignal: University of Colorado - Boulder
Bethany Wilcox: University of Colorado - Boulder