1999 Metcalf Cup & Prize

Kevin E. Smith, CAS

kevin-smithHamlet the Dane, who wished that his too solid flesh would melt and resolve itself into a dew, might have been moved to a more cheerful assessment of things had he gained knowledge of solid state physics from Professor Kevin Smith. From Professor Smith, Hamlet would have learned that the world is neither too sullied not too solid, but is aflame with logic, beauty, and mystery.

And Professor Smith would have burned away any remaining notes of melancholy with his blaze of enthusiasm. “Even though the course was intellectually demanding,” wrote one of Professor Smith’s recent students, “he made it a joy to do the work.” Another student attests to Professor Smith’s classes as “a journey not just of mathematics and science, but of the history and development of ideas; how humanity moved from the cold world of Newton and Maxwell into the mysteries of Einstein and beyond.”

An engineering student recounts that she left each lecture with a sense of awe, filled with “a whirlwind of thoughts and new ideas.” Yet another admires this “magician with the light Irish brogue” who can turn what could have been “esoteric nonsensence” about invisible particles into “living, breathing reality.”

Professor Smith’s art as a teacher is to illuminate the continuities in an almost infinitely complicated subject. Lucid, precise, quick-paced, but alert to the student who loses the thread, he commands the eager attention of students who neither expect nor receive intellectual compromise.

Lecturing on superconductivity, Professor Smith explores the strange properties of quasi-particles in a solid matrix, where separate things act as one and powerful currents are transmitted with no resistance. The best teaching approaches superconductivity; separate minds work as one, and powerful intellectual currents are transmitted, seemingly without resistance.

Professor Kevin E. Smith’s teaching is of this quality and exemplifies the high achievement that led Arthur G. B. Metcalf to establish the Metcalf Cup and Prize.