Debenedetti wins two top teaching awards

June 04, 2008

Pablo Debenedetti, the Class of 1950 Professor in Engineering and Applied Science, has won the top teaching awards for both the Engineering School and the overall University.

He won the School of Engineering and Applied Science Distinguished Teacher Award at Class Day ceremonies June 2 and the President's Award for Distinguished Teaching at Commencement on June 3.

Pablo Debenedetti and Dean Poor

For both awards, he was recognized for leading a team of faculty members who teach an innovative new curriculum for freshman and for his skill and dedication in teaching one of the most difficult chemical engineering courses. In the past four years, he has won five Excellence in Teaching Awards from the undergraduate and graduate Engineering Councils based on nominations from students.

For the past two years Debenedetti has served as course director for "An Integrated Introduction to Engineering, Mathematics and Physics," a four-course sequence that integrates physics and mathematics with hands-on, project-oriented engineering. He has taught one of the course's lab segments since the new sequence was introduced in 2005.

"He has forged a shared vision for the program among the faculty and graduate assistants associated with it, and has skillfully managed its complex elements," wrote one colleague.

Debenedetti also teaches "Thermodynamics," known as one of the most difficult classes in the chemical engineering curriculum. "We called him the 'Therminator' because of his depth of knowledge in this field," wrote an alumna. "Often we would be daunted by a problem that looked extremely complicated, but Professor Debenedetti had an amazing ability to explain things at a level that we could understand, without sacrificing the problem's elegance."

Another student wrote, "It is not often that a class is so well taught that beyond learning the material, a student grows from the experience to become a more analytical and deep thinker. Professor Debenedetti's course in thermodynamics has certainly provided that framework for me to grow."

In addition, Debenedetti teaches two graduate-level classes, "Advanced Thermodynamics" and "Introduction to Statistical Mechanics" that consistently win praise from students. "He encouraged the students to question the validity of the material that he presented," wrote one graduate student. "Often, such questions led to further clarification of the concepts and helped us a great deal in understanding the material. He even gave out goodies like cookies and brownies regularly to students who answered or asked good fundamental questions."

A student from his "Advanced Thermodynamics" course wrote, "One of the reasons I am in graduate school is because I've always loved teaching and would like to one day become a professor. Watching the way Professor Debenedetti conducted himself made me think that this is the way teaching should be done, and I know that he will always remain a role model for me throughout my professional career."

Debenedetti joined Princeton's chemical engineering faculty in 1985 and has made major research contributions to the a wide range problems having to do with the thermodynamics and molecular dynamics glass-like materials, water and other liquids. He was elected in 2000 to the National Academy of Engineering, the highest distinction in engineering. He is the past chair and current acting chair and director of graduate studies in the Department of Chemical Engineering. In July he will become vice dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science.