Enhancing student visual understanding of the time evolution of quantum systems

Gina Passante*, Antje Kohnle

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Time dependence is of fundamental importance for the description of quantum systems, but is particularly difficult for students to master. We describe the development and evaluation of a combined simulation-tutorial to support the development of visual understanding of time dependence in quantum mechanics. The associated interactive simulation shows the time dependence of an energy eigenstate and a superposition state, and how the time dependence of the probability density arises from that of the wave function. In order to assess transitions in student thinking, we developed a framework to characterize student responses in terms of real and complex mathematical reasoning and classical and quantum visual reasoning. The results of pre-, mid-, and post-tests indicate that the simulation-tutorial supports the development of visual understanding of time dependence, and that visual reasoning is correlated with improved student performance on a question relating to the time evolution of the wave function and the probability density. The results also indicate that the analogy of a classical standing wave for the infinite well energy eigenfunctions may be problematic in cueing incorrect ideas of time dependence.

Original languageEnglish
Article number010110
Number of pages14
JournalPhysical Review Physics Education Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 13 Feb 2019


  • Conceptual framework
  • Mechanics
  • Simulations


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