An Investigation of Introductory Student Understanding of Special Relativity in the Context of the Relativity of Simultaneity

by Alexis Rebecca Olsho

Institution: University of Washington
Year: 2018
Posted: 02/01/2018
Record ID: 2219058
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/1773/40960


This dissertation describes the results of an investigation into introductory student understanding of special relativity in the context of the relativity of simultaneity. The research probes the extent to which students are able to use concepts from both Galilean and special relativity to determine, for multiple reference frames, the time sequence of events that have a spacelike separation. To this end, three parallel investigations were conducted. The first probed student ability to apply the formalism of a reference frame to determine both the time and location of events, for multiple reference frames. The second probed student understanding of relevant consequences of the invariance of the speed of light. Finally, we examined student understanding of concepts related to causality, which can be seen as the basis of a qualitative understanding of the relativity of simultaneity. These investigations identified a number of significant conceptual and reasoning difficulties in this population of students. Modification and assessment of curricular materials intended to address the identified difficulties is also described.Advisors/Committee Members: Shaffer, Peter S (advisor).