GOLDEN, Colo., March 17, 2015 – Colorado School of Mines Assistant Professor of Physics Eric Toberer has received an award that will further his research into improving the conversion of heat into electricity, as well as support his pioneering techniques in teaching undergraduates higher-level physics.
The Cottrell Scholar Award is granted each year by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA) to a dozen or so teacher-scholars who are just a few years into their first tenure-track position. The award provides $75,000 over three years.
“I’m excited about this award in particular as it embodies the Mines spirit – striving for excellence in teaching and research in equal parts,” Toberer said. “Mines has a strong history of advanced energy materials and pedagogical innovation, and bringing these two themes together will be exciting.”
Toberer’s long-term research goal is to minimize the inefficiencies of thermoelectric generators, making them competitive with conventional engines.
While he and other researchers have been actively pursuing how a material’s electronic band structure determines efficiency, Toberer’s proposal to the RCSA also seeks to address what he calls “the missing link” in the computational prediction of thermoelectric performance: electron scattering.
Toberer said pursuing both these avenues will lead to the next generation of thermoelectric materials.
On the education front, Toberer will continue his active-learning approaches in upper-division solid-state physics. In the last two years, he has converted approximately half of his course content into YouTube videos, creating more time during class for activities and discussion with students. The videos have even been a hit beyond Mines, with about 41,000 views over the past year, 75 percent coming from outside the United States.
The course website can be found at solidstate.mines.edu.
Toberer plans to refine his video modules, and share his techniques with others. He also proposes to create an online community that combines videos, tutorials and in-class activities. Finally, he plans to assess his teaching approaches for solid-state physics over the next three years.
“Cottrell Scholars are provided with unique opportunities to help them launch and establish truly outstanding careers,” said RCSA President Robert Shelton. In addition to financial support, recipients “belong to a community whose members help each other to develop the skills and relationships necessary to become academic leaders.”
RCSA, founded in 1912, is the oldest foundation for science advancement in the United States.
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