Prize in the Environmental Sciences and Engineering section
Fernando Porté-Agel, professor of fluid mechanics, never shuts his office door. He taught for 10 years in the United States before joining EPFL and considers it essential to be available for students who need help. “In the United States, professors are very close to their students. I don’t want my students to see me as scary and aloof,” he said.
Porté-Agel is passionate about his field of research, fluid mechanics, and draws great satisfaction from teaching. “It’s the most rewarding part of my work,” he said. “I take EPFL’s mission to offer the best education possible to our students very seriously.” In his courses, Porté-Agel does not hesitate to alternate methods, switching easily between standard and novel approaches. “I use a lot of 3D animations and videos, but sometimes the good old methods work best: for example, I use the blackboard to derive important equations, encouraging the students to participate and help during the process. I find this approach very effective.”
He also devotes significant time to experiments, which lend themselves well to the field of fluid mechanics. The goal is for the students to understand and predict physical phenomena, applying theory to practice. It’s also a way for Porté-Agel to share his passion for research. “In nature, fluid flows are often very turbulent, but every phenomenon can be explained and gives us a better understanding of air and water quality, weather, climate and renewable energies.” These are all concepts that Porté-Agel works easily into his teaching, thanks in part, he says, to his student assistants. “They are very important at EPFL and do excellent work. We should be proud of this system!”
Porté-Agel was awarded the teaching prize in the Environmental Sciences and Engineering section for his teaching and for his dedication to staying on top of his game. “I update my course materials every year, and I’m very open to using MOOCs and other methods. I’m always looking for the best way to get my message across.”