Prof. Hoffman energizes classrooms through thrilling experiments

TEMP ORARY January 26, 2012 0

In the collegial community, only a handful of individuals achieve success in their respective field. Rarely do we see an individual who succeeds in multiple arenas of academia; however, some professors do. Meet the man who wrote “An Integral for Second-Order Multiple Scattering Perturbation Theory.” Where would a student find a man of this caliber?

Dr. Gary Hoffman is an associate professor of chemistry at Elizabethtown College, as well as a trumpet player for the Hershey Symphony Orchestra and a former gymnast. Hoffman attained his Ph.D. in chemical physics from Harvard University in 1987 and is a 20-year veteran of the education system. He began his tenure as a teacher in the sunshine state of Florida but migrated to Pennsylvania to begin teaching at Etown in 2002. He was appointed chair of the department, a position he held for six years, then went on sabbatical to focus on his research of molecular movement and its effects on physical properties. He currently teaches general chemistry, along with upper level chemistry classes.

Described by others as a kind soul, Hoffman goes beyond the classroom to provide students with accessible office hours. Many students cite his ability to make light of tense situations as one of his most defining qualities.

Hoffman credits his older brother for supplying his passion for chemistry: “I always had an interest in chemistry; however, it was my brother that ultimately made my decision. He was a physics major. I didn’t want to be in his shadow, so I became a chemistry professor and never looked back.”

Hoffman professes his joy for seeing students succeed. “It’s always nice to see students grow. I’ve seen a few students become professors over the years.”
In his spare time, Hoffman currently works on his new research concerning Ab initio molecular dynamics (AIMD), which deals with molecular dynamic principals. In this research, he focuses particularly on fluorescence, molecular indicators oftentimes used in hospitals to identify abnormalities in patients. He suspects this could eventually be used to increase medical knowledge regarding diabetes. Hoffman wants to continue research throughout his entire professional career at the College, which he said could go on indefinitely. “I see no reason to leave any time soon.”

Aside from his research, Hoffman is a member of the Hershey Symphony Orchestra, where he is one of the trumpet players. He performs an average of five to six concerts a year, all while conducting scrupulous research. He began playing the trumpet in fifth grade, and eventually retired it to its case after grade school. A few years ago, he dusted it off and began to play once more. By practicing weekly, he rose to the professional level and is now a member of the local orchestra.

In his youth, Hoffman was an avid gymnast, a sport which he brought with him to college. Injuries were not as prevalent in his career as they were in others. He used his high level of intelligence to make judgment calls in order to perform in the safest manner. “[No injuries in gymnastics] was my greatest achievement,” Hoffman said. He also believes fitness should be a staple of anyone’s daily routine.

In his college days, some of his favorite activities were rock-climbing and attending his friends’ parties. “College kids today stress out so much … Kids in the 80’s were much less stressed than students of today. On Saturday nights I was worried about the party I was attending rather than a paper,” Hoffman said.

The education system has been a constant source of debate among politicians and educators. As a seasoned veteran of academia, Hoffman has much insight on what he feels it should be. “The collegial education system is pretty loose in terms of regulations imposed on teachers. Once in a while, I’ll wish I could teach a different way. But I do have much freedom with instructing my courses. This may not be the case at some other colleges. We are currently in the process of revamping the chemistry department and expanding it to be more accessible to non-majors.”

Hoffman stated he is proud of what the chemistry department is, and he feels it provides all students with an ability to learn. “A good teacher is one that is on a log with a student on the other end … Teaching should be a dialogue.”

In his decorated career, he cites a paper titled “Integral for Second-Order Multiple Scattering Perturbation Theory” as his greatest accomplishment. The paper, which was riddled with numerous complexities, needed a specialist to review it, rather than a standard review board. The paper covered a six-dimensional integral, which can be used to solve many mathematical equations.

Hoffman has found time to provide his students help, whether their goals are chemistry related or not. Each day, they catch a glimpse of his wealth of knowledge in not only the sciences but in many diverse subject areas as well.

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