François Gallaire

Prize in the Mechanical Engineering section

Teaching keeps François Gallaire grounded. Gallaire, a former researcher at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), finds daily contact with his students to be a breath of fresh air: “It helps center me in times of doubt about my research.” Both passionate and engaging – with hints of a mad scientist – this professor of fluid mechanics likes to get his students thinking differently. “Because they’re used to the traditional deductive method, which is based on proving theorems, they’re uncomfortable when encouraged to make observations,” said Gallaire. He shows them that the ability to look, induce and criticize is just as essential.

Jarred out of their comfort zone, the students learn to hone their resourcefulness. “In class, they tend to be bookish. But I want them to take the same attitude towards scientific knowledge that they take towards their daily life.” Rather than giving them detailed recipes, he makes a point of explaining general principles that they can use to understand a wide range of problems. To get them thinking, Gallaire will sometimes take his students’ answers and follow their reasoning until he reaches its limits, even if it’s a dead end. “You have to err to understand.” His approach seems to work, judging by his students’ enthusiastic course evaluations.

Pedagogical innovations are also part of Gallaire’s repertoire. He helped created a MOOC on fluid mechanics together with Professor Ancey and Dr. Ramaioli from EPFL’s School of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering (ENAC). And he sees value in testing flipped classrooms, where students learn the material outside the classroom and apply it in class. Gallaire also uses clickers in class, “which give me an immediate sense of things.” In addition to his Bachelor’s level course on fluid mechanics, Gallaire teaches two Master’s level courses: Instability, and Turbulence and Hydrodynamics. He was awarded the 2015 teaching prize in the Mechanical Engineering section in recognition of his teaching skills and innovative approach.