President's Professor creates new spin on nuclear science

Ricardo Alarcon

Matter and energy are at the core of President’s Professor Ricardo Alarcon’s research and his passion as a teacher.

A professor of physics at Arizona State University studying nuclear physics, Alarcon examines the design, construction and execution of experiments in basic nuclear science. He is a pioneer in fundamental neutron physics and was recently named a President’s Professor for his substantial contributions to undergraduate education at ASU.

Alarcon has taught more than 2,500 students since 2006 and he has championed the development of interactive classroom technologies and online courses. Of particular note is the innovative and engaging online format that he has developed in introductory physics.

“The basic structure of these new courses contains the following elements: content delivery in the form of lecture and physics demonstration videos produced by tenured faculty and embedded in an educational platform; an online homework and testing system; online recitations and online office hours with instructors and teaching assistants; and online asynchronous testing during midterms and finals in a specially designed testing room equipped with computers,” he said.

In addition, Alarcon spearheaded an Interactive Learning Center for general studies students. This 3,000 square-foot center that recently opened was developed in collaboration with the School of Earth and Space Exploration. Alarcon’s vision for the center encompasses a place for collaborative and guided learning with students accessing the center’s technology with faculty help to advance their learning. Alarcon envisions the center leading to a “flipped class” approach where students are first exposed to the concepts online. Sessions then will be held at the center for collaborative and interactive learning activities.

His research is a crucial component of several high profile projects where experiments are conducted at national laboratories. Alarcon is a fellow of the American Physics Society, a leader in the field of nuclear physics and recently served on the National Research Council committee on the “Assessment and Outlook for Nuclear Physics.” He is currently the Physics’ Associate Chair of Academics at ASU.

Alarcon is a strong proponent of undergraduate research experiences and he has included at least two juniors or seniors in his research group during each academic year.

“The involvement of undergraduates in research is considered a crucial part of student education, particularly in the sciences. With access to faculty doing forefront research, students can get valuable training on a particular technique or problem. They can learn to work in research groups involving graduate students and senior scientists and get an early read of whether to pursue further study in the sciences,” he said.

Alarcon, one of three faculty members chosen as a President’s Professor this year, was selected based on a variety of criteria: mastery of subject matter; enthusiasm and innovation in the learning and teaching process; ability to engage students both within and outside the classroom; ability to inspire independent and original thinking in students and to stimulate students to do creative work; innovation in course and curriculum design; and scholarly contributions.

His undergraduate studies were completed at the University of Chile and he received his doctoral degree in 1985 from Ohio University. His postdoctoral work was completed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign until 1989, when he joined Arizona State University as an assistant professor.

The Department of Physics is an academic unit in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.