Department Page

I'm an Instructor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and the Associate Director the Science Gateway Programs, which includes Science One and the Coordinated Science Program. I spend most of my time either teaching or thinking about teaching.


Location

E-mail:james (at) phas.ubc.ca
Office: 364 Irving K. Barber (Science One)
329 Hennings
Phone: 604-827-2378



Education

Ph.D. Physics, University of British Columbia. (2011)

M.Sc. Physics, University of British Columbia. (2007)

B.Sc. Physics/Mathematics, University College of the Cariboo. (2004)



Research

I trained as a theoretical physicist under the supervision of Ariel Zhitnitsky. I now apply that training working on ways to improve physics teaching and learning. During my PhD I contributed to the discovery of a new kind of current, much like the regular current you get out of the wall socket, but instead of requiring an electric potential (voltage) to flow, it requires a chiral potential, an imbalance in the number of left and right handed particles in a system. It also requires a giant magnetic field, so it's hard to find here on Earth. The general phenomenon is now called the Chiral Magnetic Effect or the Charge Separation Effect if you want to google it.

This work allowed me to explore the fascinating world of non-perturbative field theory, dealing with topological structures such as vortices, domain walls and quantum anomalies, as well as venturing into string theory and the AdS/CFT correspondence. Neutron stars, with their huge magnetic fields and parity violating processes, are an ideal place to look for these new currents. Though neutron stars aren't directly accessible, much of my time was spent thinking about how this new current could manifest itself in large scale astronomical phenomena.

It turns out that teaching and learning, though physically much closer in proximity than neutron stars, are seemingly just as indirectly accessible, or directly inaccessible. My interests largely involve taking physics education research and applying it to course and curriculum design.

My current research has two main focuses. One is the development of learning software called ComPAIR. It's an implementation of Adapitive Comparative Judgement and does a very simple thing: it allows a student to compare two assignments submitted by their peers and decide which is "better". It's simple, flexible and robust, allowing you to design assignments activities that lean on the pedagogical theory that people learn best through direct comparisons. I'm also very interested in assessing whether or not interdisciplinary programs like Science One can break down the pre-existing silos of knowledge that students may possess. I'm working on developing tools that measure the development of interdisciplinary thinking.