Student ideas regarding entropy and the second law of thermodynamics in an introductory physics course

Warren M. Christensen, David Meltzer, C. A. Ogilvie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

48 Scopus citations

Abstract

We report on students’ thinking regarding entropy in an introductory calculus-based physics course. We analyzed students’ responses to a variety of questions on entropy changes of an arbitrarily defined system and its surroundings. In four offerings of the same course we found that before instruction, no more than 6% of all students could give completely correct responses to relevant questions posed in both general and concrete contexts. Nearly two-thirds of the students showed clear evidence of conservation-type reasoning regarding entropy. These outcomes were little changed even after instruction. Targeted instruction that guided students to recognize that entropy is not a conserved quantity appears to yield improved performance on qualitative questions related to this concept.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)907-917
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican Journal of Physics
Volume77
Issue number10
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physics and Astronomy(all)

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