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Physics Education & History of Physics

The distinctive feature of the research group has been its global research perspective, dealing with the different aspects that characterize the learning and teaching of Physics (disciplinary, cognitive and teacher education). In agreement with the European political trends in education (from the White Paper of the 1995 to the present project “Horizon 2020”), the aim has always been to overcome a merely notionistic or applicative approach to teaching and learning by contributing to the development of the cultural role of physics, in order to motivate young people to the study of physics and to satisfy the knowledge requests linked to the crucial contribution of Science and Technology to the present society development.

The research topics cover a variety of issues: a) analysis of the foundations of contemporary Physics (relativity, thermodynamics, quantum physics) and their reconstruction from an educational perspective; b) analysis of the contribution of physics teaching in promoting critical thinking concerning environmental issues (e.g. Global Warming); c) modelling of learning as a process of conceptual change and appropriation at the individual level; d) development of models for teacher education.

Scientific responsible: O. Levrini (Assoc. Prof.)

Group Members: B. Pecori (Assoc. Prof.), O. Levrini (Assoc. Prof.), E. Bertozzi (Adjunct Prof.), G. Tasquier (Post Doc.)

Reconstructing contemporary physics from an interdisciplinary perspective

The reformed secondary school curriculum in Italy requires students of the “Liceo Scientifico” to address, at grade 13, topics of contemporary physics, including relativity, quantum physics, particle physics. Because of the advanced and specialized nature of the topics, textbooks usually cannot avoid presenting contemporary physics as a fragmented patchwork of notions (pieces of historical information, experimental results, theoretical hypothesis), which sounds as a sort of 'appendix' to the central body of knowledge.

The main goal of the research is to design teaching materials aimed at giving contemporary physics conceptual and cultural relevance within the secondary school curriculum. In designing the materials, contents are reconstructed around core-concepts, like space-time and symmetry or the debate between discrete and continuous, chosen because of their structural and foundational role, their interdisciplinary nature, and their epistemological value. Two research topics are currently investigated with a special attention and in collaboration with researchers in mathematics education and linguistics: the interdisciplinarity between mathematics and physics in teaching/learning contemporary physics; the role of linguistic competences in understanding contemporary physics texts and their contents.

Developing teaching materials about environmental issues

The scientific community has been debating climate change for at least twenty years. The EU has recommended to reform science teaching so as to incorporate environmental issues in the scientific curriculum, answering the need for making school a place of civic education. Yet, such innovations are far from being realized. An unavoidable source of complexity stems from the many dimensions of environmental issues: scientific, psychological-behavioural, social and economical.

The main research goal of the Group of Bologna is to study if, how and for what purpose scientific content related to climate change can be reconstructed according in a way that integrates its physical and social-science dimensions. The research work aims at designing a teaching proposal able to foster both deep understanding of the basic physics concepts involved in climate change as well as critical thinking that allows citizens to make informed personal decisions.

Materials are designed and implemented both in secondary school classes and in contexts of teacher education.

Modelling innovative and inclusive learning environments

The issues of addressing cultural diversities, of exploiting the individual potential and of creating learning environments that can make learning more and more inclusive for all have become the frontier topics of Physics Education and are included in the Challenges of Horizon 2020.

The Bologna research group has been developing a model of learning environment, designed as a “properly complex territory”, that can facilitate and support the individual processes of appropriation involved in understanding physics within the collective classroom dynamics. The research work led to an operational definition of “appropriation of physics concepts” and to the acknowledgement of orchestration patterns that can foster such personal, genuine and productive engagement with physics contents.

Teacher education

The research group experience in both pre-service and inservice teacher education dates back to the sixties, the age of the big projects, and more recently includes the fundamental role played in the design and implementation of the SSIS/ER program for certification of physics teachers at secondary level.

At present the research focuses on the process through which teachers appropriate innovative teaching proposals developed by physics education research. Data are being collected and analysed about the use of materials developed for teaching special relativity, thermodynamics and quantum physics in the upper secondary school.

Research collaborations

Research is carried out in collaboration with secondary school teachers, doctoral students and scholars from other universities.

School teachers: S. Accorsi (Liceo Scientifico “Archimede”, San Giovanni in Persiceto, BO), M. Clementi (Liceo “A. Einstein”, Rimini), P. Fantini (Liceo “A. Einstein”, Rimini), F. Filippi (Liceo “A. Einstein”, Rimini), L. Francesio (Liceo “Belfiore”, Mantova), E. Garagnani (Liceo Scientifico “Archimede”, San Giovanni in Persiceto, BO).

PhD Students: E. Barelli (PhD in Data Science and Computation), G. Ravaioli (PhD in Physics), N. Vernazza (PhD in Physics)

Collaborators from other departments or universities:, T. Amin (American University of Beirut),L. Branchetti (Department of Mathematics, Physics & Computer Science, University of Parma), A. Cattabriga (Department of Mathematics, UNIBO), J. Dillon (University of Bristol) ), V. Durand-Guerrier (IMAG, University of Montpellier), I. Galili (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel), S. Kapon (Technion, Haifa, Israel), A. Laherto (University of Helsinki), M. Levin (Western Michigan University), M. Lodi (Department of Computer Science and Engineering), M. Viale (Department of Classical Philology and Italian Studies),

Recent or ongoing research projects:

  • I SEE: Inclusive STEM Education to Enhance the capacity to aspire and imagine future careers (ERASMUS +, KA2, 2016-1-IT02-KA201-024373, 01/09/2016 - 31/08/2019. Coordinator: Olivia Levrini, University of Bologna (
  • EXPERES, Les Tice Appliquées à L’expérimentation Scientifique (561551-EPP-1-2015-1-ES-EPPKA2-CBHE-SP, October 2015 – September 2018). EU CCORDINATOR: University of Murcia; MAROCCAN COORDINATOR:  Université IBN TOFAIL, LOCAL COORDINATOR: University of Bologna (
  • IRRESISTIBLE - Including Responsible Research and Innovation in Cutting-Edge Science and Inquiry-Based Science Education to Improve Teacher’s Ability of Bridging Learning Environments (EU-LLP, GA number 612367, November 2013 - October 2016). Project Coordinator: Jan Apotheker, University of Groningen, Netherlands. (
  • HOPE-Network – Horizons in Physics Education (EU-LLP, 2013-3710_540130-LLP-1-2013-1-FR-ERASMUS-ENW, October 2013 – September 2016). Project Coordinator: Nadine Witkowski, Université Pierre et Marie Curie – UPMC, Paris, France. (


Olivia Levrini

Associate Professor

Dipartimento di Fisica e Astronomia - DIFA

Viale Berti Pichat 6/2

Bologna (BO)

tel: +39 051 20 9 1018

Barbara Pecori

Associate Professor

Dipartimento di Fisica e Astronomia - DIFA

Viale Berti Pichat 6/2

Bologna (BO)