Investigating the influence of visualization on student understanding of quantum superposition

Antje Kohnle, Charles Baily, Scott Ruby

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

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Visualizations in interactive computer simulations are a powerful tool to help students develop productive mental models, particularly in the case of quantum phenomena that have no classical analogue. The QuVis Quantum Mechanics Visualization Project develops research-based interactive simulations for the learning and teaching of quantum mechanics. We describe efforts to refine the visual representation of a single-photon superposition state in the QuVis simulations. We developed various depictions of a photon incident on a beam splitter, and investigated their influence on student thinking through individual interviews. Outcomes from this study led to the incorporation of a revised visualization in all QuVis single-photon simulations. In-class trials in 2013 and 2014 using the Interferometer Experiments simulation in an introductory quantum physics course were used for a comparative study of the initial and revised visualizations. The class that used the revised visualization showed a lower frequency of incorrect ideas about quantum superposition, such as the photon splitting into two half-energy components.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPhysics Education Research Conference 2014
EditorsPaula V. Engelhardt, Alice D. Churukian, Dyan L. Jones
PublisherAmerican Association of Physics Teachers
ISBN (Print)978-1-931024-23-5
Publication statusPublished - 28 Apr 2015
EventPhysics Education Research Conference 2014 - University of Minnesota - Twin Cities, Minneapolis, MN, United States
Duration: 30 Jul 201431 Jul 2014

Publication series

NamePER Conference series
PublisherAmerican Association of Physics Teachers
ISSN (Print)1539-9028
ISSN (Electronic)2377-2379


ConferencePhysics Education Research Conference 2014
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityMinneapolis, MN


  • Quantum mechanics
  • Simulations
  • Visualization
  • Conceptual understanding
  • PERC 2014


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