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Abstract Title: When the light bulb turns on: motivation and collaboration spark the creation of ideas for theoretical physicists
Abstract: In this project, we sought to uncover the cognitive processes and skills that are involved in completing a theoretical physics project. Theoretical physics is often portrayed as a field requiring individual genius and can seem inaccessible to undergraduate students, as well as the public. We drew upon the foundations of Cognitive Task Analysis and completed semi-structured interviews with eleven theoretical physics faculty members from several different research institutions who specialized in subfields including quantum optics, biophysics, computational astrophysics, and string theory. We analyzed the processes and skills of these physicists, focusing on an analysis of idea origin, collaboration, and motivation. We used concept maps to organize these codes and portray the factors that influence the creation of project ideas. We found that motivation and collaboration are fundamental determinants of project ideas and their origins, which contradicts the "lone genius" stereotype. These findings on cognitive processes and skills can help us understand how to better prepare students to do theoretical physics research. Finally, the information gathered during this project may be useful for improving the public understanding of theoretical physics, dispelling the belief that the field requires "genius," and making it accessible to more students. (Supported by NSF DGE-1846321 and REU-1757477)
Abstract Type: Contributed Poster Presentation
Session Time: Poster Session 2 Room B
Poster Number: 2B-20
Contributed Paper Record: Contributed Paper Information
Contributed Paper Download: Download Contributed Paper

Author/Organizer Information

Primary Contact: Molly Griston
University of Rochester
Rochester, NY 14627
and Co-Presenter(s)
Jesus Botello
Department of Physics, The University of Texas at Austin

Michael Verostek
Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Rochester
School of Physics and Astronomy, Rochester Institute of Technology

Benjamin M Zwickl
School of Physics and Astronomy, Rochester Institute of Technology