Christos Comninellis

Prize in the Chemistry and Chemical Engineering section

“Being a professor is the best job in the world.” Christos Comninellis came to EPFL 45 years ago from his native Greece. He has been teaching in the Chemical Engineering section since 1980. At 71 years old he is now an honorary professor, yet he still supervises around 30 doctoral students and teaches a few courses out of love for the profession. “I love reading, learning and sharing. There’s nothing better than seeing in the eyes of a student that they’ve grasped something,” he added.

Comninellis won the 2015 teaching prize in the Chemistry and Chemical Engineering section thanks to his dedication to teaching and the excellent evaluations by his students. This award also recognizes his many years of toil in a section that, 16 years ago, was hit by a wave of retirements and deaths among the teaching staff. At the time, Comninellis agreed to take on a hefty teaching load, and it was thanks to his efforts that the Master’s program in Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology still exists today. “It was a lot of work, but I really enjoyed it,” he said smiling.

He still spends a lot of time preparing for his lessons even though he knows the subject matter through and through. “Every hour in front of the class requires two to three hours of upfront time, even if it’s something I’ve been teaching for 15 years.” In the courses he teaches, Comninellis aims to get students to love “the magic of chemistry” and its sometimes unpredictable results. “It is not an exact science, and it’s amazing when you realize you can make chance discoveries, unlike in a field like physics.”

Through his enthusiasm he builds up trust with his students, some of whom remain in contact with him long after leaving EPFL. “They can tell my deepest desire is for them to learn and grow.” And that, for Comninellis, is the key to being a good teacher at EPFL. “Professors have to be passionate about teaching, not just very gifted in their field of research!”