November 18, 2004
Purdue physics professor honored as top educator in Indiana
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. A Purdue University physics professor has been named the state's top professor by the only national ranking specifically designed to recognize excellence in undergraduate teaching and mentoring.
Nicholas Giordano, a distinguished professor of physics who has been at Purdue for 25 years, will be recognized today (Thursday, Nov. 18) as the 2004 Indiana Professor of the Year. The annual award program, which takes place at noon at the Willard InterContinental Hotel in Washington, D.C., is administered by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.
Chosen from among 10 Indiana professors nominated by their institutions this year, Giordano is the eighth Purdue professor since 1987 to earn the annual award.
The council recruits judges within higher education to choose finalists, after which a panel of Carnegie Foundation judges selects the winners based on "extraordinary dedication to undergraduate teaching." Nominations contain testimonials from students, colleagues, administrators and others.
Giordano says he knows he could be sharing the award with many others.
"On the one hand, I am extremely proud to get this honor; I care a lot about students, and work hard to do a good job in and out of the classroom," Giordano says. "On the other hand, I am sure that many others on this campus and at other schools in Indiana are deserving of this award."
Giordano, whose name was included in Purdue's Book of Great Teachers this summer, has an international reputation for his work in the field of mesoscopic physics, a branch of the general field of nanoscience. Mesoscopic physics includes the study of electrical effects in some of the tiniest pieces of matter that humans have worked with yet materials so small that their sizes are typically measured in nanometers, or billionths of a meter.
At that scale, the physical forces governing everyday objects in the human-sized world join the quantum forces that govern behavior of atoms.
His research focuses on the properties of metallic nanostructures, the behavior of liquids in nanoscale systems, noise and fluctuations in condensed matter systems, musical acoustics and the physics of the piano.
In addition to serving on the faculty in the Department of Physics, Giordano also has served three years as assistant dean of the School of Science.
David J. Asai, head of the Department of Biological Sciences, wrote of Giordano: "Nick starts off with an audience of 400 mostly unforgiving and reluctant students. And he wins them over. As one student stated, 'He makes physics "phun!"' He accomplishes this through a unique combination of maintaining high standards, use of group learning exercises, and the willingness to provide individual attention to all of the students who are willing to work with him."
John Monnier, who worked with Giordano as a senior on an honors research project, has gone on to become an assistant professor of astronomy at the University of Michigan. Monnier says that the time he spent as a student with Giordano has had an impact on his teaching career.
"As a beginning professor myself here at the University of Michigan, I find myself often thinking of my experience with Nick and am baffled how he could have pulled it all off," Monnier wrote in a letter supporting Giordano's nomination for the award. "It seems that my colleagues and I are so rushed with teaching and research that finding time to craft useful projects and to spend adequate time with students is difficult. But I know that it must be possible because of Nick, and this inspiration keeps me trying to always do better."
Giordano says his decision to become a teacher came while he was a graduate student at Yale. He decided then to opt for a career in academia rather than industry.
"I chose an academic career for a couple of reasons," he says. "I thought there would be more variety; there are always new courses to teach and lots of opportunities to learn new things. But the most important thing was I just really enjoy interacting with students."
He says the best class sessions are the ones that leave him drained.
"I usually go into a lecture with only a skeleton outline of what I want to cover," he says. "I then let students' questions and comments dictate how much depth I go into on various problems and subjects. This keeps every lecture fresh, and helps me address the particular difficulties that students are having.
"This also makes each lecture more of a challenge, since I have to analyze and adapt as I go. I find that when I do this well, I am physically and mentally tired after a lecture. And the better the lecture, the more tired I am, even when the topic or course is one that I have covered many times before."
Giordano has received numerous awards, including the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship, American Physical Society Fellowship and the U.S. Department of Energy Computational Science Education Award.
From Purdue, he earned the Charles B. Murphy Award for outstanding teaching and Herbert Newby McCoy Award, which is presented annually to the student or faculty member who made the greatest contribution of the year to science. He also is a fellow of the Purdue Teaching Academy.
He graduated with honors from Purdue with a bachelor's degree in physics in 1973, after which he earned his doctorate in physics from Yale. He remained at Yale as an instructor and then assistant professor until 1979, when he returned to Purdue to join the faculty.
Writer: Amy Raley, (765) 494-9573, firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Nicholas Giordano, (765) 494-6418, (765) 563-6502 (home), email@example.com
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; firstname.lastname@example.org
Note to Journalists: Giordano will be leaving Lafayette at 3 p.m. Wednesday (Nov. 17) for Washington, D.C., where he will be honored at a luncheon at the Willard InterContinental Hotel at noon on Thursday (Nov. 18).
A publication-quality photograph is available at https://news.uns.purdue.edu/images/giordano.greatteacher.jpg
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