June 9, 1994
Vol. 13, No. 20

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    Faculty Award: David Schramm, Louis Block Prof. in Physic

    Faculty Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching: David Schramm, Louis Block Professor in Physical Sciences

    David Schramm, Louis Block Professor in Physical Sciences, is a world-renowned researcher in cosmology who ranks teaching among his favorite activities.

    In his 20 years at Chicago, Schramm has taught a wide variety of graduate and undergraduate courses in physics and in astronomy and astrophysics. This year his graduate class in cosmology, cross-listed as Astronomy 321 and Physics 406, was a popular draw, with the largest enrollment of any graduate class in the Astronomy & Astrophysics Department.

    His favorite classes to teach, he said, are at opposite ends of a spectrum. "I tend to alternate between teaching introductory classes to non-science majors and teaching advanced graduate students in my specialty, and nothing in between," he said. "I find both rewarding for different reasons -- the students in the introductory classes find new concepts exciting and aren't afraid to ask off-the-wall questions. And of course, I find the advanced graduate students very stimulating.

    "The exciting part about supervising graduate students is that they teach me things," he said. Graduate students go through a transition once they have mastered the concepts of the field, he said, and when they begin doing research they are often learning about something no one else knows. "Not even their adviser!" he said, laughing. "I always find that fun."

    Some of Schramm's students and postdoctoral scholars have gone on to become the leaders of their generation in cosmology. His former students hold faculty positions at such institutions as Caltech, Berkeley and Michigan as well as Chicago, and include Michael Turner, Professor in Astronomy & Astrophysics, who worked with Schramm as a postdoctoral scholar.

    Schramm finds teaching rewarding for many reasons. Foremost, he said, is watching people learn. "It's wonderful to see, when you introduce a new idea or a new concept and their eyes light up and they run with it."

    Schramm's research interests include cosmology -- the study of the very early universe -- and the connection between particle physics, nuclear physics and cosmology. When he came to the University in 1974, he was the first to do modern cosmology at Chicago. "Now it's a very major effort here. It's been great to watch it grow," he said.

    Schramm also reaches out to a broader audience by giving a series of lectures every year at Adler Planetarium. "I find that very interesting because I meet people from all different backgrounds," he said. One of Schramm's many talents is being able to teach cosmology on grounds that people understand -- one of his favorite analogies uses a rising loaf of raisin bread to describe the expansion of the universe.

    "Think of the universe as a loaf of raisin bread," he said. "And we're one of the raisins. No matter where that raisin is in the universe of bread, all of the other raisins are moving away from it as the loaf is rising. That's the expansion of the universe."

    Schramm received his S.B. in 1967 from MIT and his Ph.D. in 1971 from Caltech. He then taught at the University of Texas before coming to Chicago as Associate Professor in Astronomy & Astrophysics, Physics and the Enrico Fermi Institute. He became Professor in 1977 and was named Louis Block Professor in Physical Sciences in 1982. -- Diana Steele