Unknown keeps physics students on edge of seats

Learn, discover and teach: these are the tenets of the WSU professor. Mark Kuzyk, professor and associate chair of physics, embodies all three.

These attributes are what distinguish professors such as Kuzyk and why he is selected to give the 2005 Distinguished Faculty Address. The award recognizes achievements in research, scholarship and teaching that place the honoree in the front ranks of his or her discipline.

Kuzyk, a professor at WSU for the past 15 years, is best known for the “Kuzyk quantum gap.” This theory shows there to be a significant gap between all materials and their fundamental physical limits; real materials fail to live up to their theoretical potential. At present some 1,000 laboratories worldwide are trying to narrow the gap.

Despite his accomplishments outside the classroom, Kuzyk remains modest, bringing excitement to his classes, entertaining students and giving them food for thought along the way.

“If you can show and not just teach, you can garner more interest amongst the students in the subject matter,” said Kuzyk. “My students never know what is going to happen (in lecture), so they stay attuned, enabling them to learn better.”

He has taught all levels, from introductory through advanced graduate classes. He created a two-semester graduate lab course and initiated a master’s program in optoelectronics, the branch of physics that deals with the interconversion of electricity and light.

His enthusiasm has paid off. Kuzyk frequently receives office visits and e-mails from former and current students, praising his class and his teaching skills. Students thank him for letting them in on a little known fact — physics can be fun.

Kuzyk feels his success in the classroom goes beyond the campus. “We teach our students and they go out and disseminate this knowledge,” he said. “So research and teaching go together…they’re really the same activity.”

“Mark has always been an inspiration to students. Year after year, his teaching is the most popular in the department,” said Steven Tomsovic, professor and chair of physics. “He excels equally well in both his research and teaching endeavors, and for him these arenas are highly intertwined.”

While research and teaching keep him busy, Kuzyk remains energetic about the Faculty Address. “I am really excited about giving the address,” he said. “You have a broad audience that wouldn’t normally hear what you have to say.”