As a child, I loved taking things apart, putting them together, and finding interesting ways to test their limits. After survived any number of explosions. shocks, and poison gases, it was no surprised that I became a physicist. It's a career in which I can still take things apart, etc., but typically with fewer disasters.
After arriving at UVA in 1985, I spent several decades studying atoms, molecules, and nanoparticles, using lasers, vacuum chambers, and magnets and aided by a wonderful group of graduate students and postdocs. But my taste in science gradually shifted toward the practical and I set out to do something directly useful in the real world. I invented a class of viscoelastic materials and have been working to translate those initial laboratory discoveries into real world devices ever since. The first application is earplugs.
As much as I enjoy doing science, I enjoy teaching it even more. My particular passion is explaining the science of everyday life to ordinary people – people who have thought of science mostly as an intimidating academic exercise. Since creating How Things Work in 1991, I have taught twelve thousand UVA students, several hundred thousand online students, and millions of television viewers. My aim has been to show them that science is useful, valuable, and provides tools for living they can apply to everything from cooking to hockey to keeping safe during a pandemic. The College Fellows program is the perfect context in which to continue that effort. In the engagement courses, we can look not only at the science itself, but at the social, ethical, financial, and political contexts surrounding it. And we can even do some of that science ourselves.