Alex Filippenko - Student Introduction

Heather Newman
for Alex Filippenko
2006 Outstanding Doctoral and Research Universities Professor of the Year

It is seldom one sees a scientist capture the attention of hundreds of university students, many of whom are fearful of science.

Whether spinning a donut tied to a string overhead to demonstrate the orbit of the moon (when the donut flies off of the string, it moves in a direction tangential to the circular orbit), jumping from the desk onto a skateboard (one year breaking his rib) to teach atomic transitions or poking a pickle with electrodes, Alex never fails to keep the attention of his students while at the same time teaching valuable and complex physics.

Alex's astronomy T-shirts always correlate with each lecture's theme as does the music at the beginning of the class (e.g., Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" or Oasis's "Champagne Supernova"), and his annual black hole Halloween costume is always a hit. But these are just details that illustrate his character.

Alex has a very special gift that sets him apart from any of the other professors that I've had (and I've had many great ones in my five years at Cal-Berkeley). Alex has a unique ability to teach material of varying depths to students of a multitude of ability levels simultaneously. Yes. He teaches the freshman history major and the physics grad student in the same lecture!

This multidimensional teaching is a rare gift. Most often a professor caters to one level, leaving some students behind while others are bored. Alex effectively and entertainingly teaches both general astronomy and ground-breaking cosmological theory to the largest and probably most diverse class (of 600 plus students) at Cal-Berkeley.

Alex is more than just having fun, he is constantly inspiring students in deep and profound ways.