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An Inquiry-based approach to the Franck-Hertz experiment


The practice of scientists and engineers is today exerted within interdisciplinary contexts, placed at the intersections of different research fields, including nanoscale science. The development of the required competences is based on an effective science and engineering instruction, which should be able to drive the students towards a deeper understanding of quantum mechanics fundamental concepts and, at the same time, strengthen their reasoning skills and transversal abilities. In this study we report the results of an inquiry-driven learning path experienced by a sample of 12 electronic engineering undergraduates engaged to perform the Franck-Hertz experiment. Before being involved in this experimental activity, the students received a traditional lecture-based instruction on the fundamental concepts of quantum mechanics, but their answers to an open-ended questionnaire, administered at the beginning of the inquiry activity, demonstrated that the acquired knowledge was characterized by a strictly theoretical vision of quantum science, basically in terms of an artificial mathematical framework having very poor connections with the real world. The Franck Hertz experiment was introduced to the students by starting from the problem of finding an experimental confirmation of the Bohr’s postulates asserting that atoms can absorb energy only in quantum portions. The whole activity has been videotaped and this allowed us to deeply analyse the student perception’s change about the main concepts of quantum mechanics. We have found that the active participation to this learning experience favored the building of cognitive links among student theoretical perceptions of quantum mechanics and their vision of quantum phenomena, within an everyday context of knowledge. Furthermore, our findings confirm the benefits of integrating traditional lecture-based instruction on quantum mechanics with learning experiences driven by inquiry-based teaching strategies.