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Student reasoning about sources of experimental measurement uncertainty in quantum versus classical mechanics

Cornell Affiliated Author(s)


E.M. Stump
C.L. White
G. Passante
N.G. Holmes


Measurement uncertainty and experimental error are important concepts taught in undergraduate physics laboratories. Although student ideas about error and uncertainty in introductory classical mechanics lab experiments have been studied extensively, there is relatively limited research on student thinking about experimental measurement uncertainty in quantum mechanics. In this work, we used semi-structured interviews to study advanced physics students’ interpretations of fictitious data distributions from two common undergraduate laboratory experiments in quantum mechanics and one in classical mechanics. To analyze these interpretations, we developed a coding scheme that classifies student responses based on what factors they believe create uncertainty and differentiates between different types of uncertainty (e.g. imprecision, inaccuracy). We found that participants in our study expressed a variety of ideas about measurement uncertainty that varied with the context (classical/quantum) and the type of uncertainty. © 2020, American Association of Physics Teachers. All rights reserved.

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Natasha Holmes Group

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