Robert Hobbs makes sparks fly in the physics department

Robert Hobbs electricity thingcropped

For some BC students studying physics, Robert Hobbs is a fixture of the department. Serving as the head of the physics department and faculty advisor for the physics club, Hobbs uses his years of practical and teaching experience to help students learn and pursue their interest in physics.

Hobbs started his undergraduate work at the University of Colorado in Boulder, home of several research labs, such as NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology), LASP (Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics) and JILA (Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics). Hired under a work-study program, Hobbs did research in a variety of fields such as near-absolute zero low temperature research and measuring the relative velocity of a nearby star: “I worked at the observatory with a 24 inch telescope and took spectra, I measured that [the star] Vega is coming at us, because the light from it is blue shifted. Most stars go away from us, but some local stars come at us. There’s a Doppler shift with light like there is with sound, and so I used the telescope and its instruments and I measured that the light coming at us from Vega is slightly bluer than it’s supposed to be and I measured by how much, and so I personally know that Vega is coming at is at 30 kilometers per second or something like that”.

After graduate school in Indiana, Hobbs moved to Seattle, taking a different approach to his career. “Typically you use all your professors and advisors and those people to get you jobs but I knew I wanted to live in Seattle, so I just moved here and I didn’t do that and I looked for jobs. My first actual research job was at the nuclear physics lab at UW.” Hobbs did a variety of jobs, including being an electrical engineer in the oil fields at Prudhoe Bay in the Arctic Circle. During his time at UW, Hobbs also tutored students in physics. After racking up 5,500 hours of tutoring, Hobbs applied to work at what would become BC. “I’ve always been really good in laboratory work and I’ve always really liked to teach, and both of those things, I was doing were very satisfying, but when I got here and I actually got in front of a class, it was like suddenly I’d come home. It was really surprising to me how since I was already doing everything that I liked to do, how significant a feeling that was, when I had my first class and how it moved me, and [I said] I really love doing this, so I stayed.

Given that physics students are more motivated than the average student, being determined to be a physicist or an engineer, Hobbs takes a personal approach to teaching: “I knew that everybody could learn, and I knew that I could [teach]. There isn’t anybody that could come to my class that I couldn’t help learn physics. I knew how to do that and if that’s not happening, it’s not the student’s fault. So if there’s a student that’s not succeeding in my class, then that’s a problem that I can fix and that I’m responsible for fixing. If there’s a student in my class and they’re not succeeding, that’s something I can do something about and I should be doing something about that.”

Students interested in physics are encouraged to check out the physics club,   meetings are on Thursdays from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. in room B144