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Physicist Honored for Teaching Excellence

Physicist Honored for Teaching Excellence
Mike Downer, professor of physics, has received the Piper Award for excellence in teaching.

Downer-piper-450Mike Downer (center), professor of physics, receiving the Piper Award for teaching excellence with (from left to right) Sacha Kopp, associate dean for undergraduate education in the College of Natural Sciences, David Laude, interim dean of the college, Bill Powers, president of the university, and Richard Hazeltine, chairman of the Department of Physics.AUSTIN, Texas—Mike Downer, professor of physics in the College of Natural Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin, has received the Piper Award for excellence in teaching.

The Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation selects 10 professors each year in Texas to receive $5,000. Downer is a member of the university’s Academy of Distinguished Teachers and recipient of a 2011 Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award.

Downer is the 13th member of the College of Natural Sciences faculty to receive the statewide award.

Among his innovations in classroom teaching, Downer introduced “Concept Quizzes,” an interactive teaching method that encourages dialogue between lecturers and students and among students themselves in large lower-division classes. This innovation went on to be adopted by other faculty members, was computerized as part of the Painter Hall lecture room remodeling, and has become the department’s standard procedure for large introductory courses.

Downer also introduced “Cir-Kits,” take-home electrical circuit kits with accompanying homework exercises for students in introductory electricity and magnetism courses.

In addition to teaching,  Downer is an experimental physicist who is developing a new type of tabletop, laser-driven particle accelerator that may dramatically lower the cost of some forms of cancer treatment.

He has supervised the work of over a dozen undergraduates and several dozen graduate students in his research labs.

Recently, Downer and his wife established the Jane and Michael Downer Presidential Fellowship in Laser Science in memory of one of Michael’s first students, Glenn Bryant Focht, who succumbed to cancer several years ago. This fund is now beginning to support the education of new students in laser science.

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Sunday, 23 January 2022

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