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School of Science announces 2015 Teaching Prizes for Graduate and Undergraduate Education

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Left to right: Larry Guth, Wolfgang Ketterle, and Eric Lander
Left to right: Larry Guth, Wolfgang Ketterle, and Eric Lander

The School of Science has announced the winners of its 2015 Teaching Prizes for Graduate and Undergraduate Education. The prizes are awarded annually to School of Science faculty members who demonstrate excellence in teaching in their courses for that year. Winners are chosen from nominations by their students or colleagues.

“MIT has the best students in the world and it is a privilege to teach them,” said Michael Sipser, dean of the School of Science. “I am delighted that we are celebrating these three outstanding educators in the School of Science.”

Larry Guth, professor of mathematics, was awarded a prize for graduate education for his subjects, 18.156 (Differential Analysis) and 18.S997 (The Polynomial Method). Guth’s nominators remarked on his infectious enthusiasm and his kindness and patience for his students, and were inspired by his dedication to the intellectual growth of his students. Several students said that Guth was among the best teachers they encountered in their undergraduate and graduate studies, citing in particular his teaching methods, which encouraged open-ended exploration of problems, curiosity and independent thought, and a solid understanding of the principles that underlie concepts and techniques.

Wolfgang Ketterle, the John D. MacArthur Professor of Physics, was awarded a prize for graduate education for his courses 8.421 (Atomic and Optical Physics) and 8.422 (Atomic and Optical Physics II). Ketterle’s nominators cited his ability to incorporate “a deep treatment of essential, subtle concepts” into a broad overview of atomic physics, to communicate concepts clearly through pictures, diagrams, and physical arguments rather than mathematical derivations alone, and to encourage students’ deep, independent exploration of the subject matter. The nominators further cited Ketterle for his evolving course design; Ketterle has continually modernized course material and experimented with new topics and teaching methods, while soliciting and responding to student feedback on changes. His nominators note they continue to use the MIT OpenCourseWare versions of both 8.421 and 8.422 as resources, and “are sure that his courses will continue to benefit students both at MIT and elsewhere for many years to come.”

Eric Lander, the founding director of the Broad Institute and a professor of biology, was awarded the prize in undergraduate education for his course 7.00x (Introduction to Biology — The Secret of Life), offered online through edX. Lander first hosted the course in 2013, after having taught it to MIT students in the classroom for 20 years. The online course has proven very popular, and required significant efforts to adapt it to online learning, including reworking the curriculum for students with limited backgrounds in biology, making supplemental videos for laboratory work, and incorporating computer-based protein and gene viewers so online students could see genes and proteins usually presented as models and illustrations in physical classrooms.

The School of Science welcomes Teaching Prize nominations for its faculty during the spring semester each academic year. For more information, please visit the school’s website.

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