June 21, 2011
Professor’s love for science translates to the classroom
MARYVILLE, Mo. - As an assistant professor of chemistry and physics at Northwest Missouri State University, Dr. Himadri Chakraborty is motivated by his desire to communicate the wonders of science to his students and reduce the sense of intimidation students feel toward basic sciences.
"Physics is something that most students dread and there are reasons for that," he said. "One of the reasons is bad teachers who tell them that it's so abstract they will have a real hard time. If there's a person who can show light along the proper direction, then many students feel encouraged and vigorous enough to try and understand it."
Chakraborty admits science isn't for everyone. But his palpable passion for the field is enough to get the most science-fearing person excited about atoms and molecules.
A native of India, Chakraborty's research and teaching career has taken him from the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems in Dresden, Germany, to Kansas State University and Louisiana State University.
He joined the Northwest faculty in the fall of 2006 and is helping the University establish its nanoscience program based at the campus's Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, a recently completed 46,679-square-foot facility that houses start-up businesses and academic research facilities and provides entrepreneurial support.
Recently, he was profiled as one of "50 Missourians You Should Know" in Ingrams, a magazine covering Kansas City's business community, as part of a feature focusing on people who have made significant accomplishments in business, academia, the arts or non-profit sectors.
Chakraborty says his passion for teaching and his interest in contributing to a growing program led him to Northwest. He's motivated by his desire to help others understand science, something he developed as a student himself.
"I wanted to come to a school where I would have enough teaching exposure, I'd be able to teach a lot of students, and also there would be very intense interaction with the students compared to the bigger schools," he said.
"I was in bigger schools and I have seen teaching there. People come to a huge, huge classroom, get the lecture in the morning and the same lecture in the afternoon. The students only see a teacher during that 50 minutes in the classroom, and then they have no idea what to do. I wanted to directly interact with the students and be available to them, and thereby help them understand."
He admits he had to pinch himself the first time he stepped into a lab at Northwest's CIE and realized the facility's superior quality. As Northwest builds its nanoscience program, Chakraborty notes, the University has the infrastructure - including equipment and hardware along with faculty expertise - to develop a strong and flourishing nanoscience program that already is the envy of other nanoscience programs.
In addition to learning from faculty like Chakraborty, students at Northwest have the benefit of collaborating on research projects related to nanochemisty, nanophysics and nanobiology.
As a computational nanophysicist, Chakraborty is in the midst of two federally-funded research programs. One relates to the spectroscopy of nanoparticles, particularly the soccer-ball-like molecules known as fullerenes, and their exotic derivatives like doped and nested fullerenes, with applications in fields of biomedics, photovoltaics and photonics. As part of the other project, Chakraborty is studying nanostructured surfaces, which have enormous applications in designing architecture for future electronics.
"We have strong undergraduate research programs," Chakraborty said. "Whoever comes into our course will have a very unique experience of undergraduate research, and they will be extremely competitive. It will be much easier for them to get a job."
In the classroom, Chakraborty's primary mission is to help his students better understand science so they can be successful in their respective fields. But the cause and effect principles he teaches in his physics courses go beyond the classroom and help students become analytical thinkers.
"That will reflect in their everyday life, in their profession, when they become parents," he said. "These are things going beyond their focus or targeted career I want them to reflect in their general life."
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