Department of Science/Mathematics Education

School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics

Mathematics Education

Robert Hilborn, Ph.D.

I have taught physics at Oberlin College, Amherst College, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln before moving to UT Dallas in January, 2008. My physics research has ranged over several fields including lasers, atomic and molecular spectroscopy, fundamental symmetries, and nonlinear dynamics. Recently I have focused my research on applying the principles of nonlinear dynamics and stochastic (random) processes to computer modeling of the dynamics of biological systems. In particular, my students and I have worked on the dynamics of nerve cells and on the dynamics of genetic networks (combinations of genes and proteins). We have studied how random fluctuations, inherent in biological systems with only a few active components, can lead to ordered behavior of those systems. We discovered that rapid fluctuations play a crucial role in this behavior, although they had been ignored in almost all previous studies of such systems. To see how such effects work out in actual living systems, we are developing collaborations with researchers at the nearby University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

I have been active in educational activities beyond teaching for many years. In the 1990s I served as President of the American Association of Physics Teachers. Later I served on the national steering committee for Project Kaleidoscope, a nation-wide effort to enhance undergraduate science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. In 1999, I founded and chaired the National Task Force on Undergraduate Physics, whose goal was to enhance undergraduate physics programs across the country. With generous support from the ExxonMobil Foundation, the Task Force carried out an effort called Strategic Programs for Innovation in Undergraduate Physics (SPIN-UP), which provided a detailed study and analysis of 21 thriving undergraduate physics programs. The workshops and reports associated with that effort seemed to have had a major impact in the physics community, which has seen a 35% increase in the number of undergraduate physics majors since 2001. I have also served on the writing team for the revision of Active Physics, a “physics for all” course funded by the National Science Foundation and marketed commercially by Herff-Jones. In 2007-8 I served on the Committee on the Scientific Foundations of Future Physicians, sponsored by the Association of American Medical Colleges and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. In 2008, I began service on the AAMC committee to review and revise the Medical College Admissions Test.

At UT Dallas I work closely with the UTeach Dallas program designed to increase the number of science and mathematics majors who go into K-12 teaching. I also chair the Math and Science Education Council, which oversees the University’s Gateways to Excellence in Math and Science (GEMS) program.

My educational research interests include professional development of new STEM faculty members (I chair the Physics and Astronomy New Faculty Workshops funded by the National Science Foundation), the use of peer instruction in large lecture classes, the development of conceptual surveys to test conceptual development in STEM courses, and the role of college and university STEM departments in developing and sustaining change in STEM education.

  • Updated: February 9, 2009