Now, as a particle physicist who specializes in building instruments to study particles called neutrinos, he volunteers every year to teach the types of introductory classes that changed his own life.
Not every student in his classes will throw aside their plans in order to study neutrinos for a living. But Schmitz hopes that no matter their career, each comes away “impacted by a year of studying physics in a detailed way and recognizing how cool it is, its connection to things all around them, and its impact in the world.”
To foster these realizations, Schmitz makes an effort to show students just how much fundamental physics is all around them—from seeing how Maxwell’s equations of electromagnetism explain the workings of an electric motor to looking at the color patterns that are created when oil floats on water in the streets after a rain to understand how light waves interfere.
“Demonstrations and examples are always great,” he said, “and when I can, I try to do it with elements from research or even with things the students might have at home or around them, in addition to specialized demonstration equipment. In a waves course, I like to bring my guitar to class as an illustration of standing waves. In electricity and magnetism, I'll use examples from my own research in particle physics where fundamental E&M is everywhere.”
In doing so, Schmitz seeks to emphasize that the physics problems he asks students to complete are not completely abstract: “They’re not just textbook subjects for the sake of challenging your math skills, though they definitely do that too.”
“I’m always looking for ways to highlight connections—both the connections between different concepts within physics, as well as between physics and the world around us,” he said. “There is a real thrill in realizing these connections that has never faded for me, and I love sharing it with students every year.”
Faculty Awards for Excellence in Graduate Teaching and Mentoring
Matthias Haase, Assistant Professor of Philosophy
As a university student in Germany years ago, Matthias Haase learned a valuable lesson he’s carried with him since. “We were reading Kant and the professor said, ‘If you are puzzled, hold onto your puzzlement; if it all seems intelligible to you, that’s a terrible sign,’” Haase recalled.
Now an assistant professor of philosophy whose research interests span ethics, moral psychology, philosophy of action, and German idealism, Haase still stands firmly by that advice. “The only way to get to understanding is to get puzzled and more and more puzzled,” he said. “Only then are you onto some bigger question.”