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Eric Mazur to give talks on laser nanosurgery and interactive teaching at WWU

08 May 2014

photo of Eric MazurSPIE Member Eric Mazur, the Balkanski Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Harvard University and the area dean of applied physics, will present two talks at Western Washington University (WWU) in Bellingham, WA (USA), on Tuesday 13 May.

Mazur, who obtained his Ph.D. at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, is an internationally recognized scientist and researcher in optical physics, biophotonics, femtosecond lasers and silicon photonics. He leads a vigorous research program and supervises one of the largest research groups in the Physics Department at Harvard. He and members of his group have won "Green Photonics" paper awards at SPIE Photonics West in 2012 and 2013.

He has served on the program committee for the ultrafast optics conference at Photonics West since 2003 and has co-authored more than 100 papers presented at SPIE conferences.

Mazur is also active in education and is the author of Peer Instruction: A User's Manual, a book that explains how to teach large lecture classes interactively. In 2006 he helped produce the award-winning DVD Interactive Teaching, and he is the co-founder of Learning Catalytics, a platform for promoting interactive problem solving in the classroom.

Mazur's first talk at WWU, "Why you can pass tests and still fail in the real world," takes places from 1:30-2:30 p.m. in SMATE Room 150. SMATE is the Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education Center.

The lecture will address how most teachers' current assessment practices are inauthentic because they focus on having students regurgitate information back to the instructor. It will also show how assessment fails to focus on the skills that are relevant in life in the 21st century, and examine the need to rethink the approach to assessment.

Mazur's second talk, "Subcellular surgery and nanosurgery," takes places from 3-4 p.m. in Communications Facility Room 105.

The lecture details the use of femtosecond laser pulses to manipulate sub-cellular structures inside live and fixed cells. Using only a few nanojoules of laser-pulse energy, the technique allows researchers to selectively disrupt individual mitochondria in live bovine capillary epithelial cells, and cleave single actin fibers in the cell cytoskeleton network of fixed human fibro-blast cells.

The technique has also been used to micromanipulate the neural network of C. Elegans, a small nematode. A laser scalpel can snip individual axons without causing any damage to surrounding tissue, allowing researchers to study the function of individual neurons with a precision that was not achievable before.

You can learn more about Mazur's novel uses of femtosecond-laser pulses in this SPIE.tv video, which was taken in 2011 during Mazur's "Hot Topics" presentation at BiOS, part of SPIE Photonics West.