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PERC 2011 Abstract Detail Page

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Abstract Title: Representations of Partial Derivatives in Thermodynamics
Abstract: One of the mathematical objects that students become familiar with in thermodynamics, often for the first time, is the partial derivative of a multivariable function. The symbolic representation of a partial derivative and related quantities present difficulties for students in both mathematical and physical contexts, most notably what it means to keep one or more variables fixed while taking the derivative with respect to a different variable. Material properties are themselves written as partial derivatives of various state functions (e.g., compressibility is a partial derivative of volume with respect to pressure).  Research in courses at the University of Maine and Oregon State University yields findings related to the many ways that partial derivatives can be represented and interpreted in thermodynamics. Research has informed curricular development that elicits many of the difficulties using different representations (e.g., geometric) and different contexts (e.g., connecting partial derivatives to specific experiments).
Abstract Type: Gallery Session Poster
Poster Gallery Session: Representation Issues: Using Mathematics in Upper-Division Physics

Contributed Poster

Contributed Poster: Download the Contributed Poster

Author/Organizer Information

Primary Contact: John R. Thompson
University of Maine
Co-Author(s)
and Co-Presenter(s)
David Roundy, Oregon State University
Donald B. Mountcastle, University of Maine