2019 Winner, Mark Vondracek
2018 Winner, Mark Vondracek
Evanston Township High School
The 2019 Contemporary Physics Education Project Award for Excellence in Teaching Contemporary Physics was awarded to Dr. Mark Vondracek. Doc V, as his students call him, introduces them to contemporary physics topics in both the classroom and independent research. When teaching classical physics, he explores when the models break down and then delves into contemporary topics. He realizes that these topics are “bizarre, fascinating, thought-provoking, confusing, and mind-blowing,” and as such, they are exciting and natural attention grabbers for teenage students. As he says “Contemporary physics topics excite students more than anything I bring up with classical topics.” Outside of his classes he has helped many students pursue cutting-edge, original independent research in topics including astrophysics, low-temperature physics, particle physics, nanoscience, quantum optics, and theoretical/computational projects via computer simulations and online datasets from top astronomical experiments.
In describing his teaching, one of his colleagues stated that he readily takes his students on journeys well beyond Physics textbooks, and has a teaching style that is guided by the interests of his students. His realization that contemporary topics in physics are indeed interesting to students has motivated him to find innovative ways to cover this material and has made him the 2019 recipient of the Contemporary Physics Education Project’s Excellence in Teaching Award.