Texas A&M Physicist Featured On Jennifer Hudson Show
Standing at a podium, roaming the stairs of a large lecture hall during class, or teaming with student volunteers to build and showcase exciting physics demonstrations — these are a few of Texas A&M University physicist Tatiana Erukhimova’s favorite things.
During the past year, Erukhimova herself has become a favorite thing, endearing a global audience to her charismatic brand of science education through viral physics demonstration videos that have drawn a massive following to the Department of Physics and Astronomy’s social media accounts. Each new video averages more than a million views on both platforms, along with untold numbers of likes, shares and comments from people who are drawn to her energetic teaching style and infectious enthusiasm for all things science.
This week, Erukhimova takes her trademark flair for STEM education and science outreach to Hollywood, appearing today (Tuesday, Jan. 3) on the syndicated daytime talk-variety program The Jennifer Hudson Show. The segment is set to air on ABC affiliates across Texas and the nation, including Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.
“When I received the invitation, I was hesitant at first because it seemed so far outside of my regular responsibilities and comfort zone,” Erukhimova said. “However, I changed my mind during the first minutes of my initial meeting with the producer. In addition to being willing to accommodate my schedule, his excitement about science and appreciation for the importance of science outreach to the public was so clear and genuine. I realized that my appearance in fact would fit perfectly into our core mission here at Texas A&M: to educate and serve, to make people excited about science and to help them appreciate science.”
Erukhimova, who moved from Russia to College Station in 1999 for a research position at Texas A&M, credits her department’s marketing staff for her newfound viral fame. But for decades now, she and her mesmerizing method of communicating science concepts have been wowing audiences at the annual Texas A&M Physics and Engineering Festival that attracts thousands of visitors from across the country each spring, along with several additional outreach programs she’s either founded or organized, including the popular Physics Show she’s hosted for more than 30,000 people since 2007 and the DEEP (Discover, Explore and Enjoy Physics and Engineering) Program that engages Texas A&M graduate and undergraduate physics and engineering students in hands-on teamwork and outreach activities.
Simply put, the world and all its science-based wonders is Erukhimova’s classroom for students of all ages, and she’s proven to be a master of it. She readily admits that dominance didn’t come naturally and that, irony of ironies, her first foray into teaching large introductory physics classes back in 2006 was an unmitigated disaster. Nowadays, however, she’s revered by students and colleagues alike for her teaching style that, true to her own mantra, leaves no student behind.
As testament to Erukhimova’s success in that critical regard, she’s earned nearly every major teaching award at Texas A&M, including the perpetual title of Presidential Professor of Teaching Excellence in 2017, appointment in 2021 to a University Professorship in Undergraduate Teaching Excellence and Texas A&M Association of Former Students Distinguished Achievement Awards for both Teaching (2012) and Extension and Outreach (2019). In addition, she was a plenary presenter for Texas A&M’s inaugural Transformational Teaching & Learning Conference in 2018 as well as a 2016 TEDxTAMU speaker and a 2019 Fish Camp namesake. Beyond her teaching accomplishments, Erukhimova also excels in research, leading pivotal studies on the benefits of science outreach participation and gender performance stereotypes in introductory physics classes.
In June, Erukhimova was appointed as the inaugural holder of the Marsha L. ’69 and Ralph F. Schilling ’68 Chair for Physics Outreach, established in November 2021 by the Schillings due in large part to their admiration for Erukhimova and her devotion to physics education and outreach. With their second chair created within Texas A&M Physics and Astronomy, the couple wanted to support Erukhimova’s efforts to encourage interest in the same type of STEM careers that Ralph Schilling himself forged — 34 years creating and constructing space systems, from technical contributions to two of NASA’s Great Observatories to its most recent crown jewel, the James Webb Space Telescope.
While Erukhimova acknowledges that being an ambassador for science and Texas A&M created some degree of pressure, she describes it as a privilege to work with such a professional JHud team and wonderful host in Hudson. Ultimately, she sums up her recent Hollywood experience as somewhat overwhelming but highly rewarding.
“I made some nontrivial requests, such as finding me liquid nitrogen and creating a big mess on a beautifully arranged show stage,” she added. “The team helped in every step and made it all happen.”
In addition to a signature Texas A&M experiment featuring a big cloud — the one that created the aforementioned big mess — Erukhimova says she and Hudson paired up to showcase potato physics experiments, carbon dioxide bubbles and the bike wheel gyroscope.
“The audience was warm and responsive, although physics is certainly not something that you encounter in such shows often,” Erukhimova said. “They really enjoyed the experiments and were very enthusiastic. It was effortless to connect with them. It showed me what I already knew from our previous outreach projects: People will respond wonderfully and enthusiastically to science if you have the right tools and find the right way to explain even complicated concepts,
“Looking back, it was a one-of-a-kind, unforgettable experience.”