Education Invited Talk

Shobhana Narasimhan (Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, India)

Teaching Density Functional Theory through Experiential Learning: Examples from the Developing World

Today, quantum mechanical density functional theory is often the method of choice for performing accurate calculations on atomic, molecular and condensed matter systems. Such calculations provide data that can be used to interpret experiments, gain insight into structure-property relationships, and design novel materials. With recent rapid advances in computational power, it is now possible to perform such calculations on a desktop PC or laptop (or even, in some cases, on a mobile phone!) With little need for infrastructure, this is an area of advanced research that can be easily embraced by students and scientists in the developing world.

In this talk, I will share some of my experiences in teaching the necessary basics of solid state physics, as well as the theory and practice of density functional theory, in a number of workshops held in developing countries over the past decade. (Most of these workshops were organized in partnership with the developers of the QUANTUM ESPRESSO package.)

I will discuss the advantages of supplementing the usual formal equation-based teaching methods, characteristic of graduate courses, with the use of visual imagery and analogies. I will also discuss ways in which one can encourage students to make the transition from the rote-memory-based learning patterns that are characteristic of much of the developing world, to more adventurous, creative and critical ways of thinking that are needed in order to be successful in research.┬áThus, in the workshops we have held, we include discussions on such topics as what makes a good paper and how best to present one’s results.

I will also describe one successful experiment we carried out, at a summer school held in Bangalore, which resulted in a joint publication co-authored by 67 lecturers and students participating in the school [1].

[1]. A. Aravindh, + 66 other authors (S. Narasimhan, corresponding author), Solid State Communications, 144, 273 (2007).