Mathematical & Physical Sciences


MAPS academics commended for teaching quality

26 June 2013

Three academics from the Faculty of Mathematical and Physical Sciences have been recognised for their outstanding teaching in the annual Provost's Teaching Awards.

In addition, Isidoros Strouthos (UCL Mathematics) has been commended by UCLU in the Student Choice Teaching Awards. The Union recognised his outstanding teaching and personal support, making him the only academic to win in two categories. More information in UCLU's announcement.

Andrew Fisher: Provost's Teaching Award (Experienced Academic Staff)

Prof Andrew Fisher (UCL Physics and Astronomy) was one of seven senior academics commended by UCL's provost for their teaching prowess. Andrew's teaching is concentrated in the first two years of UCL's degrees in physics and astrophysics. These are hard courses for the students - and hence hard to teach - as they give students their first serious exposure to quantum physics.

Andrew Fisher
Prof Andrew Fisher

Prof Fisher has been at UCL since 1995, and as well as teaching in the Physics and Astronomy department, he carries out research at the London Centre for Nanotechnology. Much of his research focuses on the behaviour of materials at quantum scales and how this changes as the scale of the system is increased - a question which combines fundamental physics with practical applications in future technology.

"I really enjoy teaching, especially when students 'get' something important  or point out an issue I hadn't thought of," he says. "It's tough trying to combine big lecture courses with an active research programme but I have found that new technologies help a lot - they enable us to make lectures much more interactive and also give me a sense of direct personal contact with more of the students in a large class."

how the radiation absorbed by a quantum spin can be used to probe the orientation of molecules in a thin film.
How the radiation absorbed by a quantum spin can be used to probe the orientation of molecules in a thin film. Credit: Andrew Fisher (UCL Physics and Astronomy / LCN)

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Adam Townsend: Provost's Teaching Award (Postgraduate Teaching Assistant)

Adam Townsend, a PhD student in UCL Mathematics was given the award for being the best postgraduate teaching assistant in all of UCL this year. Adam taught the Mathematical Methods for Arts and Sciences course, part of UCL’s new degree in arts and sciences.

Adam Townsend
Adam Townsend

The interdisciplinary Bachelor of Arts and Sciences (BASc) course, similar to liberal arts degrees in the US, is very different from traditional British university teaching, and it presents a number of challenges for academics. Students come from a variety of backgrounds, and with varied interests and future plans, so crafting a course which meets all their expectations needs a lot of skill.

”In teaching a mathematical methods course for UCL’s new BASc, I faced a challenge: how do you bring a traditional mathematics education to such an innovative programme?“ Adam says. “Engagement using social media has been a wonderful answer, providing lively forums throughout the year as well as allowing some interesting micromanaging. Setting up peer-learning sessions over breakfast worked out fantastically for both understanding and communication skills. I was keen to exploit the wealth of online learning material as well, complementing my lectures and preparing students for an international world. And in following education trends, I was able to trial new classroom techniques and get immediate feedback. As ever, thanks go to both the mathematics and BASc departments for their endless support, and of course my students, who are truly stars and a pleasure to teach.“

How do you bring a traditional mathematics education to such an innovative programme?

When he isn’t teaching, Adam is working on a PhD in the area of non-Newtonian fluids, part of a long tradition of research into the mathematical properties of fluids at UCL.

Non-Newtonian fluids are fluids whose viscosities behave in strange ways. But despite their exotic properties, they are actually quite common, even in everyday life. For instance, ketchup (which becomes more liquid as it is agitated) and cornflour and water (which thickens when stirred) are both non-Newtonian fluids.

Before beginning his PhD, Adam gained his MSci at UCL, during which he studied the flow of melted chocolate in chocolate fountains.

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Andrew Wills: Provost's Teaching Award (Experienced Academic Staff)

Also winning one of the awards for experienced teaching staff was Dr Andrew Wills, who teaches physical chemistry and chemical physics in the undergraduate chemistry programme at UCL.

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