Dr. Scott Williams: Inquiring Mind
November 20, 2013
Dr. Scott Williams has put a distinctive twist on a professor’s traditional role of teaching students and providing the answers to their questions.
In the ASU physics labs, he mentors undergraduate student research projects that help answer queries of his own.
“I want to know the answers to certain questions or why something happens,” Williams said. “I’m just generally curious about things and I can use undergraduate students to help me find the answers in the lab.”
At the same time, the students benefit from hands-on learning outside the classroom and gain valuable experience by publishing their research results and presenting them at professional conferences.
“Graduate school admissions have become increasingly competitive,” Williams said. “Having research publications on their records gives undergraduates a leg up in that process. Especially students coming from a small school like ASU, they need a leg up on the competition from larger schools. I’ve been fortunate to work with some great students, and quite a few of them have ended up going to good graduate schools.”
“Beyond that, students also get an educational benefit from research,” he added, “because they get to work hands on in a setting where they are learning about something they specifically want to learn, not just because it is in the degree plan.”
“Students also get an educational benefit from research because they get to work hands on in a setting where they are learning about something they specifically want to learn.”
Since he arrived at ASU in 2008, Williams has conducted a wide range of research with undergraduate students in atomic, molecular and nuclear physics. Their results have been published in various journals, including Physical Review A, Nuclear Instruments and Methodsin Physics Research, Radiation Physics and Chemistry and International Journal of Nanoscience. His students have also made more than a dozen presentations at state, regional, national and international scientific conferences.
He has also won research grants totaling more than $330,000 in funding and equipment, and has developed and maintained collaborative research ties to Texas Christian University, University of Texas Nuclear Engineering Division and Los Alamos National Laboratory. These ties have resulted in donations of laboratory equipment and enhanced opportunities for ASU physics students.
Those ongoing efforts resulted in Williams being honored with ASU’s 2013 President’s Award for Faculty Excellence in Research/Creative Endeavor.
“It was really nice to just be nominated,” Williams said. “I know that is a cliché, but it is really true. It’s nice that the university recognizes that there is an educational and a teaching benefit to the undergraduate research we do. Teaching can be done outside the classroom in a different environment like a research lab, and it was great that they acknowledged that.”
Outside the classroom and the lab, Williams is also involved in various physics outreach efforts at local and area high schools, as well as campus events like Discover ASU and New Student Orientation.
“Recruiting is something I’d like to become even more involved in,” Williams said. “Better students make the university a better place, and they make other students better, too.”
A native of Forth Worth, Williams recently became a first-time father. He and his wife, AnnMarie, have an infant daughter, Josie. In his limited spare time, he likes to tinker on a 1968 Plymouth Road Runner, but spends the bulk of his time with his students.
“Something that I think is true across campus,” Williams said, “the one-on-one interaction between faculty and students happens more often at a school the size of ASU. It benefits the students and the faculty, and it makes ASU a better place to work. Also, when a student asks for a recommendation letter, the faculty actually know who they are.”
“We don’t have a physics graduate program,” he added, “so our final product is our undergraduate students. That is what we really focus on in this department, and the one-on-one relationships with faculty really benefit them. The size of ASU, I think, is pretty much perfect.”