Physics Education Research at CU-Boulder

The Physics Education Research Group at CU - Boulder

Stephanie Chasteen :: (303) 735-0627 :: » Papers
Stephanie is the outreach coordinator of the Science Education Initiative (link to and the media director of the PhET Interactive Simulations ( Her main interest is on faculty adoption of interactive teaching strategies, and communication of effective teaching practices. She creates videos, podcasts, articles, and interactive workshops for faculty. Her early work focused on transforming junior level E&M. Stephanie was previously a postdoc at the Exploratorium Museum of Science in San Francisco, and a freelance science writer. She works on a wide variety of educational innovations through her consulting work: her website and blog are at

Julia Chamberlain:: (303) 492-8707 ::
Julia is a postdoc with the PhET project, researching and designing simulations for college and high school chemistry. Her research interests include using interactive simulations to address student difficulties in general chemistry, as well as implementation of inquiry learning with simulations in classroom settings. Before joining the PhET Team, Julia studied solid state inorganic chemistry at Northwestern University, synthesizing new materials for lithium ion batteries in medical devices.

Melissa Dancy :: (303) 735-0458 ::

Mike Dubson :: (303) 492-4938 :: » Papers » Talks/Posters
Mike is a senior permanent instructor dedicated to the improvement of physics education at CU. He has studied student conceptual mastery in the upper division sequence (mechanics, E/M and quantum), is a master of the personal response ("clicker") system and its productive use. He is also a Flash programmer for PhET.

Noah Finkelstein :: (303) 735-6082 :: » Papers » Talks/Posters
Noah is a professor of PER in the department and creates and studies conditions which promote students' interest and ability in physics, education and the intersection of these domains. He is deeply committed to blending research, teaching, and community partnership. He is involved in the CLASS, PhET, PhysTEC, PFPF and NSF CCLI programs in the department.

Katie Hinko :: (303) 492-0869 ::
Katie is a post-doctoral researcher studying the impacts of educational community partnerships on both K-12 students and the university scientists that participate in such programs. She is the JILA Director of Outreach and heads the PISEC after-school program. Her PhD work at the University of Texas at Austin was in biophysics.



Ed Johnsen ::
Ed holds a BS in Physics from Colorado State which led to his work as a professional math and physics tutor before he accepted a position editing and developing math and physics content for charter schools. Ed’s current passion is Education Technology implementation and development with a focus on a Complete Education Framework intended to unite education research, policy, and practice.


Heather » Papers
Heather is an associate professor of Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics and PER in the department and a JILA Fellow. Her research interests include interactions of cold molecules and using a research-based approach to transforming physics lab courses particularly at the advanced undergraduate level (NSF TUES).


Emily B. Moore :: » Papers
Emily is Coordinator of Research for the PhET Interactive Simulations project. She leads research on the design and use of interactive chemistry simulations in classroom contexts from middle school to college. Her interests include the implementation of guided-inquiry activities with interactive simulations, and the ways simulation design features affect how students interact with, experience, and learn from interactive simulations. Before joining the PhET project, Emily studied the crystallization of supercooled water in the Henry Eyring Center for Theoretical Chemistry at the University of Utah.


Valerie Otero :: (303) 492-7403 :: » Papers
Valerie is an associate professor of science education in the School of Education. The focus of her research is content-specific K-16 teacher preparation which is guided by the belief that teacher preparation begins in the College of Arts and Sciences. Supporting content-based faculty in teacher preparation and course transformation is the overarching goal of her work and K12 teacher recruitment, preparation, and induction is a valuable component of this research. She is involved in the Colorado STEM-TP project, the CU PET project and the Colorado PhysTEC project.


Ariel Paul :: (303) 492-8707 ::
Ariel is a post-doctoral researcher with the PhET program focusing on developing sims for middle school age students as well as researching effective activity design/templates for integrating sims with middle school curriculum. During his graduate work at JILA, he studied enhancement of EUV light produced via high harmonic generation and its applications to coherent lensless diffractive imaging. Before joining the PhET program, he spent three years completing an apprenticeship as an Instrument Maker for the JILA Instrument Shop.


Kathy Perkins :: (303) 492-6714 :: » Papers » Talks/Posters
Kathy is Director of the PhET Interactive Simulations Project and Director of CU’s Science Education Initiative. She is also an Associate Professor Attendant Rank in Physics, specializing in PER. Her work in science education research has focused on: pedagogically-effective design and use of interactive simulations; sustainable course reform; students' beliefs about science; and institutional change. Before arriving at CU, she was trained as an experimental physicist and atmospheric scientist at Harvard University, and transitioned to physics education research in January 2003 as a post-doctoral researcher with Carl Wieman.


Steven Pollock :: (303) 492-2495 :: » Papers » Talks/Posters
Steve, a professor in PER, has been described by his students as a human electron. He has implemented "Tutorials in Introductory Physics" at CU, supporting and investigating TA and Learning Assistants' pedagogical development (NSF LATEST). He is actively involved in studying student learning in large and small scale classes (NSF CCLI), including the constraints and opportunities of replicating "proven" curricular practices, and extending educational models to the upper division.

Mike Ross ::
Mike is a former high school physics teacher and graduate student in the School of Education. He has taught teacher education courses with CU Teach and currently works in the Otero Lab on the Streamline to Mastery project, a teacher-driven professional development innovation. Mike was driven from teaching to graduate studies by the realization that our school systems are woefully underserving large segments of our student population, and he is currently researching curricular innovation as a means to address the racial achievement gap.


Benjamin Spike :: (303)492-8759 ::
Ben is a graduate student with a BS in physics and mathematics from the University of Wisconsin. His research is centered on the beliefs and practices of physics recitation instructors (Teaching Assistants and Learning Assistants), as well as the professional and pedagogical development of TAs and LAs. Ben is the graduate co-director of the PFP program at CU.

Ben Van Dusen ::
Ben is a second year PER graduate student in the Otero Lab. He is currently working on the Streamline to Mastery project and is beginning his research on iPad integration in the high school physics classroom.

Carl Wieman :: (303) 492-6963 :: » Papers » Talks/Posters
Carl is a Distinguished Professor of Physics and is the Founder and Chairman of the PhET (Physics Education Technology Project). He also directs the Science Education Initiatives at University of Colorado (SEI) and at University of British Columbia (CWSEI) that are devoted to widespread transformation of science education. In addition to his distinguished career in atomic physics (Nobel Prize in 2001), Wieman has been active in science education and its improvement at many levels. His work has been recognized with the NSF Distinguished Teacher Scholar award, the Carnegie/CASE 2004 Professor of the Year award, and election to the National Academy of Education in 2008. He is Chair of the NAS/NRC Board on Science Education and has worked on a variety of programs at CU that have successfully transformed physics courses and faculty teaching practices.

Bethany Wilcox :: (303) 492-8759 :: » Talks/Posters » Papers
Bethany is a graduate student in the physics department. Her current research interests include understanding student difficulties in upper-division physics courses with particular emphasis on the use of sophisticated mathematical tools in complex problem solving. She is also working to adapt a free-response conceptual assessment for the upper-division into a multiple-choice format in order to to increase the utility of the instrument as a large-scale assessment tool.


Affiliates/Alumni and Visitors of the Physics Education Research Group at CU

Wendy Adams :: (303) 735-0627 :: » Papers » Talks/Posters » Dissertation
Wendy was the Co-Director of PhET (Physics Education Technology Project) and the Director of Research for the CU Science Education Initiative (SEI). Previously a faculty member at the University of Northern Colorado. Her research interests included assessment instrument development – she led the development of the widely-used Colorado Learning Attitudes about Science Survey (CLASS) and developed the Colorado Assessment of Problem Solving. She had also done extensive research on simulation design. Her underlying motivation was to better understand how students engage in problem solving and learning. What are the specific cognitive processes used when engaged in learning and understanding?

Charles Baily :: » Papers » Dissertation
Charlie was a post-doctoral researcher involved with the ongoing transformation of upper-division Electricity & Magnetism courses taught at the University of Colorado. His graduate studies at CU focused on the changes in students' epistemic and ontological perspectives as they make the transition from learning classical physics to learning quantum physics; and the impact on student thinking of varying instructional approaches with respect to interpretive themes in modern physics courses. He is also interested in the historical development of quantum mechanics, and its various physical interpretations.

Jack Barbera ::
Jack worked as a graduate student with Carl Wieman on Chemical Education. He modified the CLASS survey to address some chemistry specific areas and developed interactive lecture tutorials for undergraduate physical chemistry. He is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Northern Colorado. When not working Jack likes to ride his motorcycle FAST.

Marcos "Danny" Caballero :: (303) 492-6956 ::
Danny was a post-doctoral researcher involved in the transformation of sophomore and junior level Classical Mechanics courses taught at the University of Colorado. He completed his PhD work in the Physics Education Research group at Georgia Institute of Technology. His research interests include understanding student difficulties in complex problem solving, developing students' computational modeling skills and the epistemological underpinnings of skill acquisition. His website is

Turhan Carrol ::
Turhan participated as a research member of the PER@C during Summer 2006 through CU's REU program. Turhan's projects included studying the effects of running Tutorials in a summer session course and developing and running a summer camp for middle school students participating in the I Have a Dream Foundation programs.

Michael Fuchs ::
Michael Fuchs served as Teacher in Residence in the Physics Department for the 2005-2006 academic year as part of the Colorado PhysTEC program. He teaches physics at Boulder High School and continues collaborations with the PER@C group.

Steven Goldhaber
Steve was a senior teaching fellow (STF) funded through the Science Education Initiative. Steve brought a diverse background (high energy particle theory, high performance computing, teaching high school physics) to the PER group where he worked to help improve student learning in upper-division quantum mechanics.



Kara Gray ::
Kara was currently a graduate student in the School of Education after receiving her Masters degree in physics from Kansas State University.



Danielle Harlow :: » Papers » Talks/Posters
Danielle completed her PhD in Science Education at CU-Boulder in 2007. Her dissertation work focused on how elementary teachers used what they learned about physics and inquiry when teaching science to K-5 students after completing a professional development course based on the Physics and Everyday Thinking (PET) curriculum. She is currently an assistant professor of science education at the University of California at Santa Barbara.



Chris Keller :: » Papers » Talks/Posters
Chris received an MS in Physics in 2006, writing a thesis on the use of PhET computer simulations in various introductory university environments. After completing his graduate work, he worked jointly with the PER group and i>clicker studying the use (and misuse) of clickers at CU to determine how clickers can be more effectively used in lecture environments. Chris is currently a curriculum developer for SEPUP (Science Education for Public Understanding Program) at the Lawrence Hall of Science and UC Berkeley.



Pat Kohl :: » Papers » Talks/Posters » Dissertation
Pat graduated with a PhD in 2008 following his studies on student assessment and integration of different representations of physics content. He is currently a lecturer in the physics department at Colorado School of Mines in Golden, CO.



Lauren Kost-Smith :: » Papers » Talks/Posters
Lauren received her PhD in physics in 2011. Her graduate work focused on modeling gender differences in the introductory, calculus-based physics courses at CU. She is currently enrolled as a master's student in Northwestern University's School of Education and Social Policy working towards secondary science teacher certification.

Ron LeMaster :: » Papers » Talks/Posters
Ron was a senior software design engineer for the PhET program and was responsible for many of the cool computer simulations you see at the PhET site.



Laurel Mayhew ::
Laurel was a post doc working with Noah Finkelstein on the impacts of educational community partnerships on scientific expert and non expert participants. She was also the JILA Director of Outreach.

Sam McKagan :: » Papers » Talks/Posters
Sam was a postdoc at CU from 2005 to 2008, working on student understanding of quantum mechanics. Her projects at CU included designing simulations for the PhET project, writing a conceptual survey of Quantum Mechanics, and course reform and curriculum development in modern physics. She is now the editor of the PER User's Guide, a project to help increase awareness of physics education research among physics educators.



Archie Paulson
Archie was a postdoc from 2007 - 2009 working on the research base of the PhET project and on the development of new simulations (sims). Following his Physics PhD from CU-Boulder and a Geophysics postdoc at UC-Berkeley, he began working in Physics Education Research in September, 2007. He is interested in (among other things) the creation of Physics tutorials to best exploit the innovative features of the PhET sims, what features of the sims prompt learning, and the design of new sims.

Rachel Pepper ::
Rachel was a science teaching fellow (STF) funded through the Science Education Initiative, working to understand student difficulties in junior-level E&M and developing and validating transformed course materials for this course. Her website is


Noah Podolefsky :: (303) 735-0627 :: » Papers » Talks/Posters » Dissertation
Noah was a postdoc working on the PhET project designing and researching computer simulations. He received his PhD in physics from CU-Boulder in 2008, specializing in physics education research. His dissertation was on theoretical and empirical studies of analogy and representations in teaching and learning physics. He continues to consider the application of his dissertation work in the design of computer simulations and analyzing their use by students learning physics.

Danny Rehn:: » Honors Thesis
Danny is a 2011 graduate of the University of Colorado with a B.S. in Engineering Physics. His research focuses on student use of computer simulations in a variety of environments, and specifically addresses the question of how to integrate assignments with simulations. His work resulted in an honors thesis that provided a list of "heuristics" to follow when creating assignments, as well as a framework for how those heuristics can be implemented within different contexts. In addition to his research on computer simulations, Danny has been involved in other education outreach programs, including PISEC, MESA, math tutoring, CU tutoring, and Computers to Youth.


Sam Reid :: » Papers » Talks/Posters
Sam is a graduate student in the Computer Science Department studying something to do with computers. He is a lead programmer in the Physics Education Technology project and has got a fine sense of humor.

Roberta Tanner ::
Roberta served as Teacher in Residence for the 2006-2007 academic year as part of the Colorado PhysTEC program. She teaches physics and engineering at Loveland High School and continues to collaborate with the PER@C group.

Darren Tarshis :: » Honors Thesis
Darren studied physics as an undergraduate at CU. His senior honors thesis was in PER, and researched how the hidden curriculum influences student attitudes and beliefs about science. He was introduced to teaching and education while working as a learning assistant in the applied math and physics departments, as part of the STEM program. Darren is now working to end educational inequity as a 2008 Teach For America corps member. With this program, he is teaching high school physics in Atlanta for the next two years.



Chandra Turpen :: » Papers » Talks/Posters » CV
Chandra Turpen was a graduate research assistant in the field of Physics Education Research working towards a PhD in Physics. She wrote her dissertation for graduation in May 2010. Her dissertation addressed the following research questions: As physics instructors engage in using new educational technologies, such as Peer Instruction and Tutorials in Introductory Physics, how are classroom practices altered? Does the use of new educational technologies impact how faculty members talk about the nature of teaching and learning physics? What institutional and departmental changes support or impede course transformation? She approached these research questions using mixed methodologies, namely quantitative classroom assessments and extensive qualitative data collection through participant observations of classroom practices and interviews. She was also involved in establishing empowering outreach opportunities for undergraduate physics students who are interested in teaching.

Benjamin Zwickl :: (303) 492-6956 :: » Papers
Ben was a science teaching fellow (STF) funded through the Science Education Initiative, JILA, and an NSF-TUES grant (PI Heather Lewandowski, Physics/JILA). He was continuing a tradition of upper-division research-based course transformations at CU by focusing his efforts on the senior-level optics and modern physics lab. He combined his enthusiasm for education and teaching with his experimental experience in cavity optomechanics in Jack Harris's lab at Yale.