Carleton College Faculty Member Explores Physics Through Teaching
Northfield, Minn. — Arjendu Pattanayak, assistant professor of physics at Carleton College, feels that it is a college professor’s mission to balance research and teaching. Teaching is of paramount importance to him: "I really want to be at a place that explicitly values teaching," he said. Pattanayak came to the College from Rice University at the beginning of the academic year.
Pattanayak says that he is "blown away" by Carleton students. "They really want to learn – not just go through the motions for a degree," he said, "I can see this in the response when I ask them questions in class."
Pattanayak noted that he has students in his challenging Newtonian mechanics class who have never been exposed to physics before, but signed up anyway. "I am doing more teaching than I have ever done before," he said, "and I am enjoying it immensely."
He has maintained his connections to Rice – Pattanayak invited a Rice colleague to Carleton to speak on work that was cited in the latest Nobel Prize award. "[I feel that] exposure to colleagues and ideas is crucial [for undergraduate physics students]," he said. "It helps them appreciate their field, and make better decisions about their future, including graduate school." He also plans to cultivate research links with other universities to further expand the physics curriculum at Carleton.
Pattanayak’s passion for physics stems from his parents’ encouragement of an early interest in science and mathematics. "I can’t imagine not being a physicist," he said. "Physics attempts to answer the most fundamental questions about how the world works." And for him, there is no better way to convey his enthusiasm than through teaching.
On the research side of his career, Pattanayak has done extensive theoretical work in chaos and quantum chaos. "One of the most interesting revelations of the 20th century is that deterministic systems still have unpredictable results, or chaos," he said. A fundamental question that quantum chaos theory tries to answer, according to Pattanayak, is why time only flows in one direction. He is currently building a supercomputer for his work at Carleton, and hopes to start intensive research soon. Creating a research culture for his students is a high priority, and Pattanayak believes he can enrich the physics experience at Carleton by moving in that direction.