From Branes to Brains : On M-theory and Understanding Thermodynamics
Abstract: This thesis is concerned with research in both physics and physics education, and is divided into two parts.Part IString theory has been the leading candidate over the past few years for a theory that unifies all the fundamental forces of nature. The fundamental objects are one-dimensional strings whose vibrational modes should correspond to the usual elementary particles. However, the recent discovery of the profound role played by extended solitonic objects in string theory, referred to as p-branes, has questioned the foundational position of the string itself. A key ingredient in these developments is the notion of duality, a symmetry which provides a handle on non-perturbative physics. As a result, all five string theories, as well as eleven-dimensional supergravity, are but special limits of a conjectural theory, referred to as M-theory. In this part of the thesis, various aspects of p-branes with relevance for M-theory are investigated. Special emphasis is given to the interpretation of p-branes as solitons. Furthermore, some of the features of the superembedding approach to describe p-brane dynamics are examined.Part IIThere is now a consensus among educational researchers that it is essential to gain a better understanding of how people understand key concepts in physics in order to improve teaching and learning in physics. This part of the thesis reports on a phenomenographic study investigating the qualitatively different ways in which lay adults, taking an introductory overview course in physics, understand the concepts of heat and temperature. Implications for teaching the topics in higher education forms an essential component of the analysis. This is followed by a theoretical component that draws on the empirical analysis as a contribution to the development of the notion of context in phenomenographic research.
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