Research in Science Education

, Volume 38, Issue 5, pp 545–564 | Cite as

Three Conceptions of Thermodynamics: Technical Matrices in Science and Engineering

  • Frederik V. ChristiansenEmail author
  • Camilla Rump


Introductory thermodynamics is a topic which is covered in a wide variety of science and engineering educations. However, very different teaching traditions have evolved within different scientific specialties. In this study we examine three courses in introductory thermodynamics within three different scientific specialties: physics, chemical engineering and mechanical engineering. Based on a generalization of Kuhn’s theory of disciplinary matrix, and the idea of boundary objects we analyse how basic thermodynamics theory is conceived in the different scientific specialties. The study is based on interviews with teachers and analysis of the different textbook traditions. It is concluded that teachers need to take into account how subject matter is conceived in other related scientific specialties when designing courses. Two examples demonstrating how this may be done are given.


Thermodynamics Physical chemistry Engineering thermodynamics Disciplinary matrix Problem of transfer 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department for Medicinal Chemistry, Faculty of the Pharmaceutical SciencesUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark
  2. 2.Department for Science EducationUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark

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