Faculty of the Month

Katie working on the ceramic work.Luc Desmedt
Physics Professor Extraordinaire

Although his first (academic) love was philosophy, Luc says he was highly encouraged to abandon his "transitory youthful infatuations and choose between engineering, computer science, math, or physics for a career." Physics it was. He did, however, when those infatuations proved to be anything but ephemeral, finish all coursework for a Bachelor's in Philosophy after his post-graduate work in Physics.

Luc says this dual background of his is incorporated into his teaching of the physics curriculum at Ohlone. His introductory physics courses offer "the unique opportunity to establish the classical Newtonian foundations and to explore, in subsequent semesters, some retrofitting efforts or some downright radical departures." He believes he is blessed to teach physics as it puts him in touch with some of the "greatest ideas and imaginations mankind has produced, some of the most systematic thought, some of the deepest reflections on the nature of reality, and some of the most beautiful mathematical formulations of these intimations."

On his teaching and on teachers, Luc further relates:

“I am fascinated when I observe the thought processes of my own students, and experience the irresistible vocation to strengthen their cognitive skills and awareness through physics topics. The place I try to teach from is the place where systematic thought forms, where common sense and intuition are questioned and continually renewed, where our most powerful visions of the deeper nature of reality are revealed and its mathematical descriptions are given meaning. The words ‘introductory physics course’—for me--are not a substitute for ‘easy physics,’ yet they don’t suddenly have to mean ‘difficult’ either. Knowledge is less about facts than about connections. Striving for clarity and completeness in bringing out these connections often actually removes difficulties and leads to a deeper insight – one of relative simplicity. Not all of my students see it this way, and I always hope: not yet! To paraphrase a researcher on stress: ‘physics can be the spice of life, or the kiss of death; which of the two depends on our attitude in dealing with her.’ It is especially urgent to share this insight with the young generations in an age where even knowledge is viewed as a commodity for which one can shop around. Although it never hurts to listen and try to understand the reasons for this trend, faculty should be regarded as and protected in their roles as guardians of their disciplines, as experts in gauging the indispensable in terms of depth and worthwhile in terms of detail, and finally as masters in finding the right path of transmission.”

Luc also comments:

“I feel very lucky to have a full-time colleague who shares that same passion for physics and teaching physics. Also, over the years, I have helped hire and mentor many amazing adjuncts, and I consider it a great accomplishment for the physics department as a whole that it tries to maintain rigor and vision in teaching physics, as well as a long term perspective that involves caring greatly about students developing into critical and lifelong learners and thus emphasizes student success in the truest possible sense.”

Luc likens teaching to a performing art. According to him, there must exist a connection between his love of teaching and his “insane appetite for the performing arts, especially the music of the western classical tradition.” His music collection is “a tribute to the art of the great performers, past and present.” Luc claims he “leverages the courage to leave room for the ‘spark of the moment’ in his own teaching when he hears the inspired risk-taking of those great performers and the breathtaking magic that results.” He always hopes that, if only once in a while, a lecture of his may succeed in that same magical manner and inspire a student in turn.

During the week, when he is not teaching, Luc finds fulfillment in commuting. A particularly slow commute, he relates, offers “an excellent opportunity to experience and enjoy physical reality like most of us do, through the senses instead of via mathematical equations, through the fifty shades of blue and green of the Bay Area skies and its rolling hills with their infinitely varied undulations.”

On the weekend, Luc likes to relax at home with his family. Besides continuously striving to refine his understanding of the foundations of physics, and seeking how to best share the excitement of a new insight with his students the next week (“yes, this really is a relaxing activity, as the mind is allowed to wander off freely!” Luc claims), he shares with his family a keen interest in the visual arts and enjoys looking at and talking about the paintings and sculptures in their collection of art monographs. Luc says that, at some point, when he has more free time—retirement?—he may himself “pick up a paintbrush and easel…or a quill to sing the landscape.” Before that time arrives, however, he fervently would like to write down some of his more mature reflections on physics in a polished, perhaps published form.

Occasionally, he says, his family takes “a day to purify our souls in Muir Woods, the Napa and Sonoma valleys, or the Monterey Peninsula, or download some lively impressions from around Fisherman’s Wharf and the Golden Gate.” One of the most relaxing ways to navigate the weekend, according to Luc, is “to commit acts of humor – often very situational and often of the incongruent kind. Sometimes this spills over into the next week ... at work.”

Luc says the Faculty of the Month award is special “because I had always tacitly assumed that in contrast to the Nobel Prize in Physics which only takes into account the work of the recipient, the tangible result of her/his research, the Faculty of the Month award considers not exclusively or even primarily the labor, but the entire persona of the recipient, the motivation and enthusiasm, even the charisma as it transpires in the recipient’s interaction with colleagues and students.”

Congratulations, Luc—you are an amazing professor and person, and Ohlone and its students are lucky to have you on staff!

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