Andrea is a Lecturer in Physics in the School of Physics and Astronomy at Cardiff University, where she is the lead scientist for the development of evidence-based active learning methodologies for physics instruction. After an extensive career in biophysics, her main interests are focused on the field of physics education research (PER). She designs and investigates novel teaching techniques to promote critical thinking, self-directed learning, and facilitate students a smooth transition to conduct their own projects. In addition to her teaching and research roles, Andrea coordinates the School's Professional Placement program, working from a different perspective to support students to take diverse careers paths successfully and adapt to the demands of different workplaces effectively.
My interests span from biophysics to physics education research (PER). I merge techniques of statistical and soft matter physics to provide a theoretical understanding of biological problems at the scale of the living cell. My work is highly interdisciplinary, and specifically relies on close collaborations with biologists and bio-engineers. My PER projects are centred in the idea that physics instruction should encourage and measure the practice of critical thinking, and foster self-regulated, reflective learners from early undergraduate courses. My main hypothesis is that the optimum framework to learn physics is by doing as expert physicists do. Therefore, I design and investigate methodologies in which students learn physical concepts by performing activities that closely resemble the work of a physicist. The activities are doable, adapted to the student level, but crucially challenging and subject to timely targeted feedback. I am particularly interested in determining the effectiveness of these techniques by quantifying their impact on learning gains, self-efficacy, metacognition and students' attitudes to learning physics.
At Cardiff University:
- PX2232 - Optics
- PX2141 - Pathways to Success in the Physics Workplace
- PX3153 - Environmental Physics
- PX3315 - Physics Project (supervision of 3rd student projects)
- PX9001 - Professional Placement Programme
- Academic tutor for Year 1, and personal tutor for Years 1 to 4.
At University College London:
I'm leading an active learning project in collaboration with Prof. Ian Ford, in the module Advanced Topics in Statistical Mechanics (PHASM/G228) .
I also run the " Active Futures in STEM Education" Workshop at the UCL Arena Centre, to provide academic staff across the STEM subjects with an introduction to the latest research on how students learn science. The sessions aims to support effective innovation in teaching practices. Therefore, the sessions take a hands-on approach, applying evidence-based ideas to the instructional activities created by the participants, and giving help and feedback on practical implementation. The workshop is based on a training programme developed in the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative (CWSEI) at the University of British Columbia, with an integrated vision of science education for the 21st century.
Andrea obtained her first degree in Physics at the University of La Plata, Argentina. As a teaching assistant, she developed pioneering active learning techniques for early undergraduate instruction. In 2004 she obtained her D.Phil. at the University of Oxford, where she specialised in applying field theory techniques to non-equilibrium critical phenomena. During her first postdoctoral position at the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems in Dresden, she applied statistical physics to solve concrete problems in cell biology. Her theoretical work on the physics of cell division, published in Nature and ranked 'exceptional' by the Faculty of 1000 Biology, provides extremely precise and testable predictions of the orientation of the cell division plane for cells deposited on a large variety of adhesive substrates. She moved back to the UK in 2007 to take a postdoctoral appointment at the London Centre for Nanotechnology (LCN), University College London (UCL). In 2009 she was awarded a competitive 3-year Junior Research Fellowship (JRF) at Imperial College. In this role, and after a health leave of absence, she spent time as a visiting researcher at Institute Curie in Paris to collaborate in an international project on cell motility. In 2014, after a Cambridge/Wellcome Trust Senior Internship at the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University, she was appointed a fixed-term University Professor in the Physics Department, LMU Munich. She developed a new active learning course in soft matter physics for masters students. Since 2015, Andrea has held a long-term honorary research position at the LCN, UCL. She started to work in physics education research in 2016, and has been a short-term Visiting Scholar at Harvard University (2016), in the group of Eric Mazur, and a Visiting Scholar at Stanford University (2017), in the group of Carl Wieman. Andrea has recently been a consultant for UCL to advise on evidence-based teaching techniques for masters level instruction.
Honours and awards
- Cardiff University Excellence Award in Teaching and Scholarship 2021.
- Provost Education Award, category "Education Success for All", University College London, 2021.
- Visiting Professorship, Physics Department, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA, 2019.
- Visiting Professorship, Physics Department, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA, 2018.
- Regular member of the Institute of Physics (IOP).
- Regular member of the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT).
Committees and reviewing
- Ordinary member, Institute of Physics (IOP) Higher Education Group Committee, UK, 2017 - present.
- External reviewer in the Period Programme Revalidation for the School of Physics, University of Bristol, 2019.
- Representative of the School of Physics and Astronomy on the University committee Task & Finish Steering Group, Innovation for All project, 2017-2018.
- Member of the School of Physics and Astronomy JUNO Committee, 2018.