Abstract: The perspectives of introductory classical physics students can often negatively influence how those students later interpret quantum phenomena when taking an introductory course in modern physics. A detailed exploration of student perspectives on the interpretation of quantum physics is needed, both to characterize student understanding of physics concepts, and to inform how we might teach traditional content. Our previous investigations of student perspectives on quantum physics have indicated they can be highly nuanced, and may vary both within and across contexts. In order to better understand the contextual and often seemingly contradictory stances of students on matters of interpretation, we interviewed 19 students from four introductory modern physics courses taught at the University of Colorado. We find that students have attitudes and opinions that often parallel the stances of expert physicists when arguing for their favored interpretations of quantum mechanics, allowing for more nuanced characterizations of student perspectives in terms of three key interpretive themes. We present a framework for characterizing student perspectives on quantum mechanics, and demonstrate its utility in interpreting the sometimes-contradictory nature of student responses to previous surveys. We further find that students most often vacillate in their responses when what makes intuitive sense to them is not in agreement with what they consider to be a correct response, underscoring the need to distinguish between the personal and the public perspectives of introductory modern physics students.
Keywords: Physics education research, quantum mechanics, modern physics.
PACS: 01.40.Fk, 03.65.-w