“Every few months, a new student walks in the door and wants to get started. The experiences that they bring to the table are always interesting.”
Early in his career at San Jose State, Physics and Astronomy Professor Peter Beyersdorf was approached by a student who had filed for a patent, inspired by a lecture he’d given.
“When I was presenting the material, it was just another chapter in a textbook,” says Beyersdorf. “But for many students, this is new. It opened my eyes to the fact that these are things they are passionate about. They may not need four or five more years’ education before they are ready to do something. They may be doing things with it already.”
Beyersdorf is a physicist who specializes in optics, the study of light. As a member of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) collaboration, he helps test Einstein’s theory of general relativity. In 2015, his research contributed to a major discovery: LIGO scientists detected gravitational waves for the first time, capturing the collision of two massive black holes that had occurred more than 1.4 million years ago.
“It gave off about three solar masses of energy in a tenth of a second—the most energetic event ever recorded in human history,” he says. “For astronomers who have only been able to look out at the universe, now it’s like having ears. They can listen to the universe and get a whole new set of information based on the gravitational wave signals that are coming to us.”
The recipient of the 2018 Outstanding Professor Award remains curious about the way the world works—a curiosity he cultivates with students.
“Seeing students when they are at a pivotal point in their lives and knowing that you can help them get to a branch in that decision tree—perhaps a more positive one than they would otherwise have—you realize that you can make a huge difference in people’s lives,” he says.
The Outstanding Professor Award recognizes a faculty member for overall excellence in academic assignment. This year’s winner comes from the College of Science. He will be honored at the 19th Annual Faculty Service Recognition and Awards Luncheon on April 5, 2018. Tickets are available for purchase.