Ralf Widenhorn

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Applied Physics



Physical Description

1 online resource (xxiii, 303 pages)




Many pre-health students are required to take introductory physics as undergraduates, though they often struggle to see the relationship between medicine and what they learn in these courses. In order to help students make that connection, reformed curriculum was adopted that teaches physics though the context of biomedicine. This dissertation will discuss the development, implementation, and assessment of the reformed curriculum for the introductory and intermediate level physics courses that targets the needs of pre-health students.

The curriculum created during this project include laboratory activities, multimedia content, and other instructional materials all of which present physics in biomedical contexts. The laboratory activities focus on exploring the physical principles behind common medical devices or concepts such as body composition analyzers or computed tomography. This often required researching, designing, and building devices for use in the classroom. Videos interviews with biomedical experts detail how physics is used in their fields. The texts written for these courses serve as a fundamental scientific introduction to the physical concepts and technical discussions of their application in biomedicine. An online homework platform allows for the implementation of a flipped classroom. Homework integrates the material, probing both conceptual understanding and problem solving. Multiple forms of assessment have been used to improve the content and clarity of the curriculum.

The research for this project includes a study of the impact of these course reforms on students' attitudes toward physics. Shifts in attitudes were assessed using the Colorado Learning Attitudes about Science Survey (CLASS), course surveys, student interviews, and conceptual quizzes. Data was collected from students in the reformed course and a concurrent course taught using a traditional physics curriculum that does not have a focus on biomedicine.

The results show that students' attitudes were affected by the reforms in multiple ways including students' ability to contextualize physical phenomenon through biomedical applications. Direct responses from the students indicated that they appreciated that the course included biomedically relevant content. They stated that the course had helped them to make connections with physics that they were not able to make in previous physics classes. However, a portion of the students qualified their approval of the course reforms by stating, for example, that they felt they were missing out on other topics due to the biomedical focus.

There is evidence that other factors such as class meeting time could have played a role in students' attitudes as well. Students were surveyed multiple times throughout the year. Results of these surveys show that students' attitudes tend decrease during fall term, but improve after winter and spring term. These results suggest that greater gains in favorable attitudes could be achieved by course reforms in fall term, where positive attitudes are at a minimum.

Illustration-based quizzes were administered to assess students' conceptual understanding and contextualization of different physical phenomena. The quizzes featured open-ended prompts about illustrations similar to those often seen in physics instruction. Few significant differences in conceptual understanding were found between students in the reformed and traditional courses. However, students in the reformed course were more likely to cite biomedical applications of the physical phenomena.

These course reforms teach physical principles through their application to biomedical technology and have positively impacted students' appreciation for the relationship between physics and biomedicine.

Persistent Identifier

Available for download on Friday, August 17, 2018

Included in

Physics Commons