“Huge Chemistry Nerd” Michael Evans Named 2016 GT1000 Instructor of the Year
What do RATS, baby wipes, chemophobia, and capturing that ever-elusive millennial attention span have in common? They all make the GT1000 class of Freshman Chemistry Lab Coordinator Michael Evans stand out.
The self-described “huge chemistry nerd” was named the 2016 GT1000 Instructor of the Year by students and facilitators. “Having the validation of an award like this is pretty awesome,” Evans says, “because it shows that the students are learning something useful and are appreciative of it.”
GT1000 is a single-credit seminar class where Recently Acquired Tech Students (RATS) can learn how to navigate their Georgia Tech experience with success and fun. The classes, available to freshmen and transfer students, are offered every fall semester and can be either broadly focused—to accommodate students without declared majors—or major-specific, such as Evans’ chemistry section.
In a small office tucked away on the fifth floor of Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons, Evans’ enthusiasm for chemistry fills the air. “I’m fascinated by the way students develop their thinking about chemistry,” Evans says with a smile.
Part of his approach to GT1000 is to engage students with real-life anecdotes, such as the time his wife purchased “chemical-free” baby wipes. “What does that even mean?” jokes Evans, who has a chemistry Ph.D. from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. “I think they were infused with some fruit extract or something.”
Evans believes that future chemists, such as those in his class, have a special role to play in society. “I want them to know that, as chemists, they will encounter misinformation,” he says. “More importantly, they’re stewards of chemistry for the general public.”
For that reason, Evans developed the chemophobia project for his GT1000 class. Chemophobia is an aversion to chemicals or chemistry that is unsupported by scientific facts. The consequences are often just funny, such as “chemical-free” baby wipes. Others are more serious. “Chemophobia supports several false claims, such as those connecting vaccines to autism, and the notion that genetically modified foods are harmful,” Evans says.
Evans challenges his students to find one chemophobia-related claim on the internet and then develop a fact-based rebuttal. He even offers to post his students’ results directly on the online outlet they are refuting, anonymously of course. “I haven’t had anyone refuse my offer yet,” he says.
Another part of Evans’ approach is to bring students’ attention to the big picture. “GT1000 is a course where you have to come in, take your time, and reflect on your experience at Georgia Tech,” he says. With so much stimuli vying for the millennials' attention span, Evans says, “Tech students don’t like slowing down, so it’s nice that they have the opportunity to take 50 minutes each week and focus on the bigger picture of why they’re here.
“This is my third year teaching GT1000 and I finally feel like I have it down,” Evans says with cautious confidence. GT1000 students and facilitators emphatically agree.
Science Communications Intern
College of Sciences
A. Maureen Rouhi