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Gina Passante

About me

I have been a member of the Physics Department at CSUF since 2015.  My research interested are Physics Education Research, where I focus on how students learn physics concepts.  My main area of interest is how students learn quantum mechanics.

A little background:  I'm originally from Winnipeg, Manitoba (Canada) and did my BSc in Physics at the local University of Winnipeg.  I was then awarded a Commonwealth scholarship to study Part III Maths at the University of Cambridge.  (This is Part III of the Mathematics Tripos.  It is roughly equivalent to a course-based masters program in North America.)  I then traveled back to Canada and did my PhD at the University of Waterloo studying quantum computing.  Sometime during my PhD I learned that there were researchers in Physics Departments studying how people learn physics.  After reading a little bit about the field I was hooked!  It was then that I decided to transition to Physics Education Research for my postdoc.  After completing my graduate degree I moved to the University of Washington to work with (and learn from) the Physics Education Group where I worked on the development of Tutorials in Physics: Quantum Mechanics.  Please see my Research Interests to learn more about this work and what I am currently working on!  


Research Interests

My research focuses on student understanding of quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics is one of the most predictively powerful theories in physics - and yet it can be very counter-intuitive as it describes the behavior of very small, isolated systems that do not act accoring to the laws of Newtonian physics. Below are some of my main research project.  All of these projects have the opportunities for undergraduate and graduate research projects. Email me at (gpassante at fullerton dot edu) or stop by my office (MH-629 B/C) if you are interested in learning more.

Spins-First Quantum Mechanics Research-Based Instructional Materials:

As part of an NSF-funded project (NSF-1626594) in collaboration with Homeyra Sadaghiani (California Polytechnic University, Pomona) and Steven Polloc (University of Colorado Boulder) we are developing research-based materials to enhance teaching quantum mechanics in a 'spins-first' instructional paradigm.  In this paradigm, quantum mechanics is first introduced in the context of spin-1/2 particles before moving to infinite dimensional systems, such as the infinite square well.  Our materials can be found at www.physport.org/curriculum/ACEQM.  

Measurement Across the Physics Curriculum:

This NSF-funded project (NSF-1809178) is a collaboration with Dr. Natasha Holmes (Cornell University) to look at student thinking about experimental measurements in both classical and quantum mechanical contexts. We are interested in whether student thinking in one regime affects their thinking in the other.  For example, once students learn about quantum mechanical measurements, does it impact the way they think about classical measurements?  Experimental measurements in quantum mechanics are an especially rich area of research, as measurements are usually only taught from a theoretical perspective in typical quantum mechanics courses.  We are exploring how students transition their theoretical knowledge of quantum mechanics to laboratory settings.  This project is especially well-suited for undergraduate research participation since you do not necessarily have to have taken quantum mechanics in order to participate!

Tools to develop visual learning in quantum mechanics:

This project is aimed at helping to improve students' representational compentance through visual learning.  All physics uses diagrams, graphs, and sketches to help illustrate physical systems, the physics model, or the mathematics.  We focus on the visual representations used in quantum mechanics and how we can improve student understanding of them.  We combine interactive online simulations and tutorial worksheets to develop materials that help students develop a visual model for quantum mechanical phenomena that can help improve their overall conceptual and mathematical understanding.  This work is a collaboration with Dr. Antje Kohnle at St Andrews University (Scotland).

Math in the Quantum Classroom:

This is a broad research interest that intersects with the above projects. Quantum mechanics relies on mathematics to help describe the phenomena.  This math is often new and can become the most difficult part of a quantum mechanics course.  I am interested in further investigating how students are able to integrate the new mathematics and new physics together in the quantum context.