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Silvia Behar Harpaz: What I enjoy the most is teaching



Dr. Silvia Behar Harpaz is an employee at GTIIT for teaching. She received her B.Sc (summa cum laude) in Physics from the Ben-Gurion University, and her M.Sc. and PhD at the Dept. of Physics at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. Since 2011, Silvia has been a lecturer at the departments of physics and mathematics at the Technion –Israel Institute of Technology and has been awarded for excellence in teaching many times.

Could you briefly introduce your academic experience?

I received my Ph.D. in physics from the Technion about six years ago, during which I spent time at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) project in Switzerland, which is the world's largest particle accelerator. As part of the ATLAS collaboration, I took part in the common effort for finding the famous Higgs boson. However, at some point I realized that what I enjoy the most is teaching, so I decided to dedicate myself to educating students. Since then, I have been teaching physics and mathematics at the Technion, Israel.


Why did you choose physics as your major?

I have always been intrigued about the nature's mechanisms and the way the world works. Physics is about understanding the most basic laws of nature, so it seemed like the natural field for me to study. In addition, I have always liked math and since mathematics is the language of physics, both fields go hand in hand.


My research was about elementary particles. The field of high energy physics deals with our understanding of what matter is made of. Everything has mass; everything you touch is comprised of atoms. Atoms are made of smaller elementary particles, like electrons, neutrons, etc. Neutrons and protons are made of even smaller particles called quarks. High Energy researchers try to understand the basic interaction among the smallest particles. The predominant current theory describing the basic interactions is called the "Standard Model". According to this model, the reason things have mass is related to the existence of the Higgs boson. To validate this theory, the Higgs boson needed to be found experimentally. I am grateful for the opportunity I had to take part in the worldwide effort of the Higgs search.


How are these experiments performed?

On the border between Switzerland and France, the largest particle accelerator was built in a multinational effort. Protons particles are accelerated to very high speeds (close to the speed of light). When the protons collide with each other, many new exotic particles are created. Most of these particles are highly unstable and decay after a very short time. By looking at the decay products, we can "reconstruct" the original exotic particles and learn about their properties.


The field of physics is considered to be dominated by men. What do you think about it?

There was a bias towards men a generation ago, but at the present both genders have equal opportunities. Though most physics scientists are still men, women can study and research physics just as well on equal terms. There is no reason for women to forfeit studying physics. I have never felt different because of my gender and I have always had the same opportunities.

What motivated you to come to GTIIT?

Coming to GTIIT is an opportunity for me and my family to adventure in a different part of the world, expand our horizons and learn about an exciting and different culture. We consider it a once in a lifetime experience. We left our home in Israel, sold all our belongings and flew halfway across the world to live in the beautiful campus of GTIIT.


On a personal level, being part of this important project is a challenge I am happy to take on.

How do you spend your time in GTIIT?

I am here to teach. This is my job. I teach most of the time and I plan to stay here for two years. I teach two courses: linear algebra and physics. The work is very time consuming; in addition to the lectures (which I prepare very carefully) I also teach tutorial classes, prepare homework assignments for the students, write tests, etc.


I have a husband and two daughters, and I spend my weekends with them. Sometimes we go to a park, sometimes we go sightseeing. I Hope to have more time to travel this beautiful and vast land during vacations.


What are the differences between Chinese students at GTIIT and Israeli students at the Technion?

Students here are very highly motivated, hard-working and invested in learning. I think they are great students, but they are very quiet in class. Because of that, sometimes I can only estimate if they understand me by reading their facial expressions, but at other times I have no idea. They don't ask questions during class, but fortunately, they do ask questions after classes.


At the Technion, when I teach something, if the students don't understand, they stop me immediately and ask me to clarify on the matter.


Another cultural difference is the teacher-student relationship. Chinese students treat me with much more respect and formality than Israeli students. I think Chinese students are very nice and gentle. I would be happy if they could feel more comfortable around me because I think this can improve our interaction during classes.


Scientific Periodicals

* Built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN),the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world's largest and most powerful particle collider, the most complex experimental facility ever built, and the largest single machine in the world. It was built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) between 1998 and 2008 in collaboration with over 85 universities and laboratories.

* ATLAS (A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS) is one of the seven particle detector experiments constructed at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a particle accelerator at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Switzerland. The experiment is designed to take advantage of the unprecedented energy available at the LHC and observe phenomena that involve highly massive particles which were not observable using earlier lower-energy accelerators. It is hoped that it will shed light on new theories of particle physics beyond the Standard Model.

*The Higgs boson is an elementary particle in the Standard Model of particle physics. Unlike other known fields such as the electromagnetic field, it has a non-zero constant value in vacuum. The question of the existence of the Higgs field became the last unverified part of the Standard Model of particle physics, and for several decades, was considered "the central problem in particle physics"

Text/Photos: GTIIT News & Public Affairs


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