Many students think the Heisenberg uncertainty is described as a measurement error due to the instrument or external effects

Quantum and Nuclear


In studies, this presented itself in the following ways:

  • Some students considered instruments, the measurement procedures and issues or both to be responsible for the Heisenburg uncertainty.
  • Some students thought that uncertainty is a consequence of the fact the electron is 'smeared out', not because of the non-vanishing commutator of certain pairs of variables.
  • Some students described the meaning of delta(x) as an error or uncertainty that departs from the exact value because of mistakes, wrong measurements, or instrument limitations.
  • Some students described uncertainty as a lack of resolution, or technology not being good enough.

Resources to Address This

  • These videos cover a wide range of approaches to teaching area of quantum and nuclear physics. The “Waves of uncertainty” video introduces the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and how it limits our measurement of particle properties at a fundamental level, independent of the measuring instruments.

    The video stars by describing measurement of waves and then link this to the behaviour of light, electrons and atoms.

    View Resource


  • Papaphotis, G. and Tsaparlis, G., () Conceptual versus algorithmic learning in high school chemistry: the case of basic quantum chemical concepts Part 2. Students’ common errors, misconceptions and difficulties in understanding. Chemistry Education Research and Practice journal, 9, 332–340.

    DOI: 10.1039/B818470B

  • Greca, I. M. and Freire Jr., O., () Does an Emphasis on the Concept of Quantum States Enhance Students' Understanding of Quantum Mechanics? Science & Education, 12, 541-557.

    DOI: 10.1023/A:1025385609694

  • Ayene, M., Kriek, J. and Damtie, B., () Wave-particle duality and uncertainty principle: Phenomenographic categories of description of tertiary physics students’ depictions, Physical review special topics - physics education research, 7, 020113,

    DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevSTPER.7.020113.

  • Tsaparlis, G. & Papaphotis, G., () High‐school Students' Conceptual Difficulties and Attempts at Conceptual Change: The case of basic quantum chemical concepts, International Journal of Science Education, 31 (7) 895–930,

    DOI: 10.1080/09500690801891908.

  • Bungum, B., Henriksen, E. K., Angell, C., Tellefsen, C. W. and Bøe, M. V., () Improving teaching and learning in quantum physics through educational design research, Nordina: Nordic Studies in Science Education, 11 (2)

    DOI: 10.5617/nordina.2043

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