California Professor of the Year Neil Garg was today named the 2017 winner of the Royal Society of Chemistry Higher Education Teaching Award. The award is given for outstanding teaching skills and the development of innovative materials and methods in higher education, resulting in a strong positive impact on students.
The UK-based Royal Society of Chemistry is the world’s leading chemistry organization, advancing excellence in the chemical sciences for the benefit of science and humanity for 175 years.
“We know that chemistry can be a powerful force for good, and quality research and communication of that research are more important than ever before,” said Robert Parker, chief executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry.
Garg, a professor of chemistry, who has been getting large numbers of UCLA students to love organic chemistry for years, has won many awards for his teaching and research, including UCLA’s Eby Award for the Art of Teaching, BruinWalk.com’s Professor of the Year and the 2015 Gold Shield Faculty Prize. Many of his students have said he is the best professor they have ever had and ever expect to have, and that he has instilled in them a love of organic chemistry — a subject many students dread.
Garg is one of three finalists for the Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching, given by Baylor University,
Among his latest teaching initiatives is a set of interactive online tutorials he has developed that combine real-life examples of organic chemistry, human health and popular culture — making organic chemistry relevant and important to students. Garg calls it BACON — Biology And Chemistry Online Notes — and he has made it available to professors and educators worldwide.
More than 17,000 students at nearly 100 colleges and universities have used or are currently using BACON, including students at Duke University, UC Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, Baylor University, Emory University, University of Vermont and universities in Italy, Japan, Mexico, India, Australia, Switzerland, South Africa and United Arab Emirates.
Now Garg is reaching a younger demographic. He and his two daughters, Elaina,10, and Kaylie, 5, have published the new Organic Coloring Book to help children learn the wonders of organic chemistry.
“My younger daughter Kaylie once feared chemicals, but now realizes that chemicals are all around her, that so many chemicals are good for us and we literally could not live without them!” Garg said. “I hope that children who color this book begin to appreciate that the molecules surrounding us are beautiful things.”
The Royal Society of Chemistry cited Garg’s tireless work overcoming negative perceptions of organic chemistry among students and the general public, including his BACON tutorials, Organic Coloring Book, and his optional extra-credit assignment, in which students create music videos detailing the various chemical reactions they’ve learned, almost always with themselves in the starring roles.
In his research, Garg develops new chemical transformations that enable the synthesis of important organic molecules. He has said the field of organic chemistry has made a tremendous mistake in not conveying to students and the general public its importance, and the impact it has on our lives.
As a result of Garg’s innovative teaching techniques, he is able to present students with extraordinarily difficult concepts and problems, which his students can master and solve.
“We all feed off his passion for organic chemistry,” said former undergraduate Elizabeth Matusov. “He feels like a friend who happens to be teaching a really difficult class. He’s easily the best professor I’ve ever had. I would take any class with him. We all would.”
“I’ve heard for two years that he’s UCLA’s best professor, and he’s lived up to everything people say, and more,” said Vandan Kasar, another former student. “He knew all of our names very early in the quarter and genuinely cares so much about all of us.”
“I never even liked chemistry before," said psychobiology major Samantha David, “but professor Garg made me want to learn the material. I love the professor more than the subject, but he’s made me like the subject too. I think other people should come to his class and see why students would almost kill each other to get into this class.”
Garg and his family live in a campus residence hall as part of UCLA’s faculty-in-residence program, which allows him to eat meals with students, advise them, go on field trips with them and inspire them daily with his passion for chemistry.
Garg shared his teaching secrets in this 20-minute TEDxUCLA talk.