Luckman Distinguished Teaching Awards
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William Gelbart, Chemistry
compliment from an undergraduate student sums up William Gelbart's
pedagogical success. "Professor Gelbart," the student told the 50-year-old
chemistry professor, "I really enjoyed the class. But I still hate
a non-major, the subject can be daunting, but Gelbart presents topics
with a vigor that makes you want to understand all those Greek-lettered
formulas. And comprehension is obviously important to him, as he
constantly scans the classroom as if to ask, "Any questions?"
no one's taking notes. "I like to provide the notes, so that students
won't be distracted by writing things down," he explains. "Then
they can think about what I'm saying. It's hard to think when you're
writing. I resented the fact that I had to do all those mechanical
things in school."
child of mathematicians in upstate New York, Gelbart always knew
he wanted to be a scientist, but didn't settle on chemistry until
halfway through Harvard. He thus became the one who "left the family
business," since his identical twin brother -- with whom, remarkably,
he shares a distinct European-sounding accent developed from speaking
mainly with each other for much of their childhood - went into math
heads UCLA's physical chemistry division. A theoretician rather
than a lab scientist, he's particularly interested in the physical
phenomena occurring in complex fluids such as blood. He's not just
a thinker, though: His trim, athletic physique hints at his abiding
interest in sports. He admits that he plays hoops like the football
halfback he used to be: Opponents have called fouls on him even
before he collides with them.
same enthusiasm, manifested perhaps somewhat less physically, fuels
his teaching. "The guiding force for me is how much I didn't like
being a student -- but how much I like what I'm doing now," he says.
"I feel lucky making a living doing exactly what I love to do, teaching
a subject I still want to learn."