We invite educators and researchers to submit papers for a special theme issue entitled "Teaching the physics of energy: from foundations to contemporary research" to the American Journal of Physics (AJP).

The teaching of energy is considered by physicists to be an important core concept to understand the material world. Educators at all levels teach basic concepts of energy to students; however, many of the core energy ideas taught to students are not consistent within the physics community, or between physics and other disciplines like life science and chemistry. Energy is sometimes regarded solely as an accounting principle, a calculated quantity representing an abstract idea, not a physical construct. Unlike matter, it is difficult for students to construct a physical representation of energy, and they often struggle to understand energy as a conserved quantity. As Richard Feynman noted in a speech to teachers; “Energy is a very subtle concept. It is very, very difficult to get right.” [1]

There are almost 200 research journals devoted to energy research topics. Since 2014 AIP journals have published over 56,000 articles on energy, while AJP has published 331 articles on energy related to undergraduate education. While energy remains a productive research topic as evidenced by publications, the topic of teaching energy concepts to undergraduate students has not experienced the same level of growth within the physics community.

We wish to publish papers from introductory to advanced levels that describe advances in fundamental understanding of energy and in the teaching and learning of energy at all levels (K-12, community college, four-year colleges and universities).

Examples of topics that would fit well in this collection are as follows:

  • Discoveries, technologies, and experiments which excite students and emphasize energy conservation, transformation, transfer, harvesting, or degradation.
  • Research on how students, teachers, and scientists understand and represent energy ideas and how to promote a deeper understanding of key energy ideas [2, 3]
  • Development of energy focused courses[4].
  • Teaching of energy concepts within specific courses (including interdisciplinary courses), for example development of new laboratories, visualizations, and curricula [5-7]
  • Critical reflection on what energy related ideas and representations are most useful for different cohorts of students [8,9]


This theme issue will be published in the summer of 2019. The deadline for the submission of articles is November 30, 2018; papers submitted after this date will continue to receive consideration if time permits. Manuscripts should be submitted in the usual way with your interest in being considered for the theme issue specified in a cover letter. Contact the guest editors Nancy Ruzycki (nruzycki@mse.ufl.edu), or Dawn Meredith ( dawn.meredith@unh.edu) with any questions, comments, or suggestions about the AJP theme issue.


Novel Research in Energy Topics, and Transformative Methods for Teaching Undergraduate Students About Energy Concepts was the topic of the 2018 Gordon Research Conference on Physics Research and Education held June 10-15, 2018 at Bryant University, Smithfield, RI.

The co-chairs are Nancy Ruzycki, University of Florida, and Dawn C. Meredith, University of New Hampshire, Vice-Chairs are Shane Larson, Northwestern University, and Sean Robinson, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.



1. Richard Feynman, Address "What is Science?", presented at the fifteenth annual meeting of the National Science Teachers Association, in New York City (1966), published in The Physics Teacher, volume 7, issue 6 (1969), p. 313-320, http://dx.doi.org/10.1119/1.2351388

2. Student understanding of energy: Difficulties related to systems, Lindsey, Beth A. and Heron, Paula R. L. and Shaffer, Peter S., American Journal of Physics, 80, 154-163 (2012), DOI:http://dx.doi.org/10.1119/1.3660661.

3. Using Metaphor Theory to Examine Conceptions of Energy in Biology, Chemistry and Physics, Rachel Lancor, Science and Education 23, 1245-1267 (2014). DOI: http://dx.doi.org//10.1007/s11191-012-9535-8

4. Renewable Energy: A First Course., Reed, Cameron, American Journal of Physics, 82, 625-626 (2014), DOI:http://dx.doi.org/10.1119/1.4863493

5. Chemical energy in an introductory physics course for the life sciences, Dreyfus, Benjamin W. and Gouvea, Julia and Geller, Benjamin D. and Sawtelle, Vashti and Turpen, Chandra and Redish, Edward F., American Journal of Physics, 82, 403-411 (2014), DOI:http://dx.doi.org/10.1119/1.4870391

6. What should be the role of field energy in introductory physics courses? Hilborn, Robert C., American Journal of Physics, 82, 66-71 (2014), DOI:http://dx.doi.org/10.1119/1.4826598.

7. Introducing thermodynamics through energy and entropy, de Abreu, Rodrigo and Guerra, Vasco, American Journal of Physics, 80, 627-637 (2012), DOI:http://dx.doi.org/10.1119/1.3698160

8. The 4% Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality, Wasserman, Ira, American Journal of Physics, 79, 887-888 (2011), DOI:http://dx.doi.org/10.1119/1.3602086.

9. Energy Landscapes, Inherent Structures, and Condensed-Matter Phenomena, Lubchenko, Vassiliy, American Journal of Physics, 84, 727-728 (2016), DOI:http://dx.doi.org/10.1119/1.4946994.