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A Passion for Physics Pedagogy: An Interview with Dr. Pratheesh Jakkala

by Anidya Soni (’23)

This past week I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Dr. Pratheesh Jakkala, a physics professor here at UC. Dr. Jakkala teaches introductory physics lectures and advanced physics lab courses to students, all while conducting interesting research projects himself.

We began talking with a question most faculty have asked themselves: “How has the pandemic changed your class when compared to previous years?” Dr. Jakkala explained how this has been a huge learning experience for both him and the students. He follows the philosophy “If I am a student in this class, what would I want from the teacher?” He welcomes feedback and finds joy when his students are successful.

In Dr. Jakkala’s words, he has a clear affinity for teaching. “I forget about the outside world when I am in the classroom and I am enjoying it.” This tremendous passion started when he was teaching his niece and nephew physics in India. At the age of fourteen, he started tutoring students as a job and developed a love for being in the classroom. After receiving great feedback, he decided to pursue teaching in the future.

He continued education at the University of Mysore, where he was chosen to enter a pilot program created by Abdul Kalam, former president of India. Dr. Jakkala placed 7th in the country in an entrance exam for this 5-year program in which students could attain both a Master’s and Bachelor’s degree in Physics. With such talented achievements, Dr. Jakkala moved to the United States in 2009 and completed a second Master’s degree, as well as a PhD in Physics.

Along with being an accomplished professor, Dr. Jakkala also participates in research. His projects focus on making more efficient solar cells using thin films. I had no idea that solar panels today are only 10-20% efficient! His goal is to make a thin film (which is like the screen on your iPhone) that can perform a desired action, using cheaper methods to increase its efficiency. A step towards cleaner energy!

I asked Dr. Jakkala what he wants students, even those not majoring in physics, to take away from his course. He replied, “I want students to observe the outside world and use their five senses to explain with physics ‘why is this happening?’” He gave a great example describing when some people, when wondering why it was important to land on the moon, would say, “what do we get when we land on the moon, just [look at] some rocks?” Rather than pondering superficial topics, people should actually think that about –say, for example, with the moon landing – how there is so much room to develop space/transportation technology that can be used in an array of different fields every day.

Along with out-of-the-box thinking, Dr. Jakkala holds a positive attitude when teaching students in class. Dr. Jakkala’s immense passion for teaching is linked to his happiness, which was highly evident when he mentioned the creation of a physics “science fair” at the previous college he worked at.

“Some people like a billion dollars, but that day, for me, was like a billion dollars.” At the physics fair, undergraduate students created physics projects to showcase for elementary, middle, and high schoolers. The joy in young students’ faces made him so happy that he often reminisces about that day years later.

As we concluded the interview, I asked Dr. Jakkala for any parting words to readers. He wants everyone to know that physics is fun — just look outside!

Thank you, Dr. Jakkala, for your time and passion to teach us; we all are very appreciative of your everyday efforts to help us understand and grateful to have you as a professor here at UC.

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