Murphy Award winner: Dor Ben-Amotz

April 27, 2012

Dor Ben-Amotz, professor of chemistry and recipient of the 2012 Murphy Award. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)

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Six exceptional teachers were honored with 2012 Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Awards in Memory of Charles B. Murphy at the Faculty Awards Convocation on April 26. This week, Purdue Today will feature a profile on each of the recipients. Today, we focus on Dor Ben-Amotz, professor of chemistry.

When Ben-Amotz sees students struggling to understand the intricacies of physical chemistry, he knows it's vital to tell them they're not alone.

In fact, in Ben-Amotz's groundbreaking textbook, "Understanding Physical Chemistry," he reveals the personal perspectives and early conceptual struggles of scientists such as Albert Einstein, Ludwig Boltzmann and Josiah Willard Gibbs -- each of whom became pioneers in the difficult field.

"My motive in pointing out these scientists' struggles is to help my students realize that the difficulties they experience are no different from the difficulties scientists have always faced," Ben-Amotz says. "My goal is to inspire my students to realize that they, too, can participate in the process of scientific discovery.”

Ben-Amotz's personal approach to teaching, his energy and his enthusiasm extend even beyond the classroom. Since beginning his career at Purdue in 1989, he has mentored and provided hands-on research opportunities to more than 40 undergraduate students.

His insights into teaching effectiveness have benefited more than just his own classes. As head of the Department of Chemistry's physical chemistry division, Ben-Amotz has helped with the evaluation and mentoring of junior faculty members, and he has worked to implement undergraduate curriculum changes.

“Teaching is hard work, but it is also very rewarding,” Ben-Amotz says. “When I first started teaching, I was pretty bad at it, but student feedback and suggestions helped me improve.”

Ben-Amotz's students consistently give his teaching high marks, both in their quantitative evaluations and written comments.

"Professor Ben-Amotz was an absolutely pleasure to have as a teacher," one student writes. "He lectures with such conviction that it really gets you excited about the material, and it gives you something to look forward to when going to class. I wouldn't change a thing." 

Another student writes, “He wants us to learn and be engaged and ask questions, and he makes it really, really interesting. I really enjoyed this class -- the stories were enjoyable and the bigger context really provided motivation for learning the material.”