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Faculty Profile

Robert N. Cahn
The Michigan Alumnus 10

Teaching, says Robert N. Cahn,
 "is part of my job as an academic 
physicist, but I don't regard myself 
as a 'teacher'.

"Teaching and research are both
 essential parts of my work, but at 
Michigan, and every other first-rate 
institution, research is the fundamental criterion for advancement.
 This does not mean teaching is un
important to me or to my colleagues. I enjoy teaching very much
 and spend about 20 hours a week 
preparing for three hours of lecture I 
give in a graduate course."

What does Cahn, a 32-year-old 
assistant professor of physics, think
 of Michigan students? "They're not 
too different from those at other 
good state universities. While the
 average (Michigan) student is not 
as good as those at the most elite 
private universities, there are a few
 who are truly exceptional and are 
comparable to the best students at
 an institution such as Harvard."

Are they adequately prepared
 when they arrive in your classroom,
 professor? Unfortunately, the an
swer is no. 'The actual preparation
 of the students is usually not very 
good. For example, beginning stu
dents in physics courses do not 
have the facility with mathematics 
which is really required. This 
means physics instructors must try 
to fill in some gaps without using 
up too much time."

Cahn's most satisfying experi
ences in teaching come when "a 
student visits me and wants to
 understand something, perhaps 
not even physics, which is not part
 of the course. This is an expression
 of his or her curiosity and not a 
response to some demand placed
 on him or her." Like many of his 
colleagues, Cahn thinks the least 
pleasing aspect of teaching is grad
ing papers.

Asked his specific career goal,
 Cahn says: "All particle physicists
 have the same goal — to understand
 the most fundamental physical 
processes in nature."

Married and the father of two
 daughters, Cahn likes camping,
 hiking, tennis and music. His read
ing tends to be current fiction and
 the Sunday New York Times.