Alex Chambers ’22
Fall 2020 may not appear as the most ideal semester to join the faculty of Trinity College. However, Professor Austin Reid, the new visiting professor of the physics department, has been inspired by the challenges of teaching remotely for Physics 141. To this point Reid said, “It’s really exciting to be able to engage with students and to actually get this level of direct interaction that normally isn’t possible.”
While Reid is new to Trinity, he is far from new to physics. After completing an undergraduate physics degree at Davidson College, a liberal arts school in North Carolina, Reid worked as an engineer. However, he soon realized that he wanted to shift his focus away from engineering: “It’s fun to build racecars, but ‘how do I make this go around a corner faster?’ is not what I wanted my legacy to be… Getting to ask bigger questions about how the universe came to be… these are big questions that I was excited to build a career around.” So, after adjusting his focus from engineering, Reid began a PhD program in physics at North Carolina State University and, following that, started postdoctoral research in experimental nuclear physics in 2018 at Indiana University.
His postdoctoral fellowship was expected to be two to three years, and since he still had one year left of his fellowship, Reid was very selective in the schools he applied to: “I only applied to really good, selective liberal arts schools. Trinity easily made that list.” Having studied physics at a liberal arts school, Reid relayed the value he places on a well-rounded STEM education in saying, “It’s a technical skill to write and communicate well, and it’s not something that scientists are good at teaching. The real benefit [of a liberal arts education] is becoming a better communicator and a better writer. Coming in you have a writing seminar. That means that after your first year, professors in every class can expect students to be competent writers. That’s not something that is guaranteed at other institutions.”
Reid is enthusiastic about this semester and explained his love for teaching physics. “I like to reexamine what I know and how I view the world and the easiest way to do that is to teach what I know to 18-year-olds who don’t know any of it. So, to go back and see it from the start again is fun; and to see those students catch some version of what I think is beautiful and what I think is important is deeply rewarding.”
This may be a difficult semester, but Trinity has brought in no one short of qualified to help guide physics students through these trying times. Reid emphasized that he is “excited to be here and [has] been really impressed by the students [he has] met with and worked with so far.” He is “looking forward to seeing what this semester looks like and what we’ll be able to do in the spring.”
Outside of the classroom, Reid has lifelong experience as a choral singer and has had training as a science communicator, or someone who is versed in explaining fundamental topics, serving to bridge the gap between the public and scientific knowledge.
At one point, Reid developed his own demonstration table entitled “Look Closer: Seeing Part of the Particle Zoo.” He has also contributed his expertise in physics at NCSU’s “Packapalooza”, a University wide annual block-party that serves as one of the top festivals in the City of Raleigh, North Carolina.
Reid has also participated in Indiana University’s “Science Fest,” another setting in which he has contributed his love for and knowledge of the subject of physics.