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Passion for Teaching and Research Inspires Lindback Winner Adkins

Above Gregory Adkins' desk in Franklin & Marshall's Hackman Physical Sciences Building hangs the bright yellow cover of the August 2011 issue of the American Journal of Physics. The journal has special meaning for Adkins, F&M's William G. and Elizabeth R. Simeral Professor of Physics, because he co-wrote the cover article on a paradox in thermodynamics with F&M student -- now alumnus -- Ted Yoder '12.

"Ted came to me his first year at F&M and said he was interested in the ellipsoid paradox (a complex problem in thermodynamics)," Adkins said. "After lots of research and literature review, Ted's work led to publication. It's rewarding to work with students like Ted. Collaboration between students and faculty members is an integral part of the picture here at F&M."

Adkins' research with students was one focus of his wide-ranging presentation at F&M's Common Hour Oct. 18 in the Barshinger Center for Musical Arts. The professor delivered the lecture as the 77th recipient of the Lindback Distinguished Teaching Award at F&M, which is funded by the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Foundation. The College announces the annual award at Commencement, and the recipient delivers a lecture at Common Hour the following academic year (click the video below to view highlights of the event).

  • Common Hour: The Grand Challenges of Fundamental Physics
  • Gregory S. Adkins, William G. and Elizabeth R. Simeral Professor of Physics and the 2012 recipient of F&M's Lindback Distinguished Teaching Award, discusses fundamental physics and his work with student researchers. Recorded Oct. 18, 2012, at Common Hour in the Barshinger Center for Musical Arts.

"Receiving the Lindback Award is an incredible honor," said Adkins, one of only a handful of F&M professors who have received both the Lindback Award and the College's Bradley R. Dewey Award for Outstanding Scholarship. "I've always thought of the Lindback Award as the top honor at F&M because of the emphasis we put on teaching. I've been on the College's Professional Standards Committee and also served as a half-time associate dean, and in those roles I saw the portfolios of so many great teachers at F&M. It's an honor to be considered one of them."

Adkins joined the College in 1983 after completing his Ph.D. in physics at the University of California, Los Angeles. He has published more than 50 articles on aspects of quantum field theory, gravitation and the exotic atom positronium, including one of the most widely cited articles in energy physics. He was elected a fellow of the American Physics Society in 1998 and earned his endowed professorship at F&M in 2007.

The professor is equally proud that 20 of his published works -- all in top physics journals -- include the names of 19 F&M students as co-authors. "My work would seem sterile without student collaboration. Working with students is an important part of the academic tradition, whether it's a Ph.D. mentorship or working one-on-one with students at F&M," he said.

Adkins said preparing for his Lindback lecture allowed him to step back and take a broad look at his field. He continues to be fascinated by the wonders of physics, and particularly enjoys introducing students to connections between theory and observation.

"What's fascinating is that we can actually understand to some extent the real and natural world by math formulas and physical laws," Adkins said. "Einstein said the most incomprehensible thing about our world is that it is comprehensible. I often teach 'Modern Physics,' and the students learn about Einstein's laws, quantum mechanics and theories that describe the way nature works. It's amazing that our world can be boiled down so well into these laws of physics."

Adkins' students say they benefit from the professor's love of his work; the professor's Lindback citation includes feedback from students in recent years:

"He really is the most enthusiastic, kind and intelligent professor I've ever come across, and he really cares how his students do," one student wrote. Said another, "Professor Adkins loves every aspect of being a professor. …His passion for the subject radiates during his class."

After receiving his Ph.D. in a large research university setting at UCLA, Adkins is happy to have found a home in the liberal arts environment at F&M.

"I'm always aware of how fortunate I am to have a job here, and I remember that when working with students," he said. "Almost all of my students are interested, eager to use their minds and willing to work, and that makes them a pleasure to teach."