For effective transfer of knowledge, it is necessary to break the transfer of conceptual difficulties. In physics courses that include special relativity, students are expected to relate the invariant mass of a system to the energy and momentum of the individual particles that make it up. Many have difficulty doing so. Student responses indicate that some difficulties stem from a failure to treat energy-momentum as a four-vector. Introductory students experience related difficulties in a purely non-relativistic context: many fail to take the vector nature of three-momentum into account when relating the momentum of a system to the momenta of its constituents. Results suggest that these difficulties are widespread, and not necessarily resolved through the study of advanced topics.
Published September 1, 2005
Last Modified July 8, 2013
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