Interdisciplinary Exploration in Physics: Meet New Professor Erin Teich
Erin Teich, assistant professor of physics, joined the Wellesley faculty in fall 2022 after completing a postdoc in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania. Though she majored in physics at Brown University, Teich explored history and religious studies courses and developed an appreciation for liberal arts education. She is still interested in interdisciplinary work: Her research in soft matter physics, which involves materials that are deformable, squishy, and often biological in nature, is relevant to biophysics as well as other disciplines. This spring she is teaching PHYS 107: Principles and Applications of Mechanics with Laboratory.
Jen Doyle: What drew you to Wellesley?
Erin Teich: Several things about Wellesley really spoke to me. One was the emphasis on teaching for faculty. That’s very different from what would be expected of me at a research-intensive university. I also loved Wellesley’s mission to educate women, trans, and nonbinary folks. When I was in college, sometimes in physics classes I was the only woman in the class, and several times there would only be a couple. It’s super-duper different, so I like it a lot better here.
Doyle: What are some of your goals here at Wellesley?
Teich: In terms of teaching, I’m interested in bringing more computation into the curriculum. I have a clear memory of deciding against taking a computing course in college. Now, my research is in computational physics. I learned computer science in graduate school but something about that, I think, kind of intimidated me in college. There’s an opportunity here to really flip the expectation and create a safe, cool space for women to also do scientific computing.
Doyle: Can you explain the steps you take in observing soft matter?
Teich: We simulate it. Students would write code to actually first distill down the unique [or] simple features of these types of systems that happen in nature and, almost, then do a computer experiment. We implement a set of rules and see what structures spontaneously form. My hope is that this will appeal to a super-wide range of students. No matter your passion or even your major, I think you can find something interesting about this work.
Doyle: If you could have dinner with any person living or dead, who would it be?
Teich: Should I just say Barack Obama, which is what I feel in my heart? I [also] feel like I didn’t know my grandparents very well because they either passed away before I was born or when I was in fourth grade. It’s hard not to be insular sometimes when you think about your own individual life and it’s hard to remember that you’re just one in the chain of people and that everything is so much bigger than you.
Doyle: Do you have a favorite winter comfort food?
Teich: Really good vegetarian ramen with thick broth, noodles, and lots of mushrooms.
Doyle: Favorite spot in Boston?
Teich: I actually grew up around here. My dad worked in Boston and so because of that my favorite restaurant of all time is in Boston. It’s still around. It’s in a different form now than it was when I was younger, but it was one of the only vegetarian Chinese restaurants in all of Boston in the 1990s and it used to be called Buddha’s Delight.
Now it’s called My Thai Vegan Café. It still does some Chinese food, but now it’s mostly Thai food. The food is still amazing.
Doyle: What book are you reading right now?
Teich: It’s called We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry, and it’s really good. It’s about a field hockey team in 1989 in Danvers, Massachusetts, which is the next town over from Salem. And it’s about how they accidentally form a witch coven.There are almost no men in the book––it’s a women’s field hockey team––so it’s all about the teen girl experience, and it’s taken very seriously. It intersects with witchcraft in kind of a serious way, but it’s also just funny.
Doyle: What would be the title of the book about your life?
Teich: I think it would be Ranger, and it would have a double meaning because it would be the name of my cat that I’m obsessed with. Also I feel like a ranger is someone who wanders around, having a circuitous journey in life.