Exciting life update! Joining GFI as adj assoc prof! :-)

It’s been in the making for a while, but I am super excited to announce that I will be joining the Geophysical Institute at the University of Bergen as an adjunct associate professor!

Here is a video I filmed to introduce myself at the institute’s meeting today that I sadly couldn’t attend.

I am very excited to be working more closely with many super awesome colleagues — Elin, Kjersti, Tor to just name a few — and to have an excuse to be in Bergen more often!

If you want to celebrate with me, there are several options:

Option 1: Do some #KitchenOceanograpy!

From next Tuesday onwards, there will be a new kitchen oceanography experiment each and every day for 24 days (also in German and in Norwegian)! Follow along, take pictures, post them on social media, tag me and let’s talk about some exciting ocean physics!

Option 2: Go #WaveWatching and send me a #FriendlyWaves!

You know the drill: Enjoy some wave watching, take a pic, post it on social media, tag me, and let’s talk about what physics are behind the waves you saw! And about how awesome oceanography and water are ;-)

Artikel “Praxisnähe dank digitaler Versuchsküche” von P. Mertsching über remote #KitchenOceanography

Im “eMagazin für aktuelle Themen der Hochschuldidaktik” der Uni Kiel ist der Artikel “Praxisnähe dank digitaler Versuchsküche” von Phil Mertsching über Torge’s und mein Projekt “Dry Theory 2 Juicy Reality”, insbesondere die Umsetzung im letzten Jahr mit den Zoom-Konferenzen aus meiner Küche, erschienen, zusammen mit vielen anderen spannenden virtuellen und hybriden Formaten. Es lohnt sich, da mal rein zu gucken!

Even though students in the active classroom learn more, they feel like they learn less

If you’ve been trying to actively engage students in your classes, I am sure you’ve felt at least some level of resistance. Even though we know from literature (e.g. Freeman et al., 2014) that active learning increases student performance, it’s sometimes difficult to convince students that we are asking them to do all the activities for their own good.

But I recently came across an article that I think might be really good to help convince students of the benefits of active learning: Deslauriers et al. (2019) are “measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom” in different physics classes. They compare active learning (which they base on best practices in the given subject) and passive instruction (where lectures are given by experienced instructors that have a track record of great student evaluations). Apart from that, both groups were treated equally, and students were randomly assigned to one or the other group.

Figure from Deslauriers et al. (2019), showing a comparison of performance on the test of learning and feeling of learning responses between students taught with a traditional lecture (passive) and students taught actively for the statics class

As expected, the active case led to more learning. But interestingly, despite objectively learning more in the active case, students felt that they learned less than the students in the passive group (which is another example that confirms my conviction that student evaluations are really not a good measure of quality of instruction), and they said they would choose the passive learning case given the choice. One reason might be that students interpret the increased effort that is required in active learning as a sign that they aren’t doing as well. This might have negative effects on their motivation as well as engagement with the material.

So how can we convince students to engage in active learning despite their reluctance? Deslauriers et al. (2019) give a couple of recommendations:

  • Instructors should, early on in the semester, explicitly explain the value of active learning to students, and explicitly point out that increased cognitive effort means that more learning is taking place
  • Instructors should also have students take some kind of assessment early on, so students get feedback on their actual learning rather than relying only on their perception
  • Throughout the semester, instructors should use research-based strategies for their teaching
  • Instructors should regularly remind students to work hard and point out the value of that
  • Lastly, instructors should ask for frequent student feedback throughout the course (my favourite method here) and respond to the points that come up

I think that showing students data like the one above might be really good to get them to consider that their perceived learning is actually not a good indicator for their actual learning, and convincing them that putting in the extra effort that comes with active learning is helping them learn even though it might not feel like it. I’ve always explicitly talked to students about why I am choosing certain methods, and why I might continue doing that even when they told me they didn’t like it. And I feel that that has always worked pretty well. Have you tried that? What are your experiences?

Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom
Louis Deslauriers, Logan S. McCarty, Kelly Miller, Kristina Callaghan, Greg Kestin
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Sep 2019, 16 (39) 19251-19257; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1821936116

Collaborative Taylor column experiments during lockdown

We’ve become quite experienced with remotely-controlled rotating tank experiments, but the current lockdown brought us into yet another new-to-us situation: We had plans to film and live-stream tank experiments from Geomar, but not being employed there, I am currently not allowed in the building! So what happened this morning is that Torge and I met up on Zoom and I watched from home as he had all the fun.

It all started out quite well — camera tests worked well, water was in the tank, I was having fun taking screenshots. Well, and I was wishing I was there, playing, rather than watching and occassionally interrupting with instructions or unsolicited advice!

When we were done setting things up, students joined in for their exercise session (no, it’s not me three times in the meeting below, I just edited that in for privacy because we didn’t ask students for permissions to use their pictures), and a lively discussion ensued. Topic of the day were eddies in the ocean, and it was all leading up to the Taylor column experiment that we had only recently figured out.

The Taylor column experiment basically shows that rotating flows cannot just flow across an obstacle, they have to stay 2D and thus move around it. Which worked out beautifully! The blue dye started out upstream of the obstacle and got deformed into these beautiful filaments as it is moving around the hockey puck and the Taylor column on top of it (The puck is only blocking the lower part of the water column, above it there is just water!).

It all went super well until we fell into the trap we’ve been falling in ever since we started working with the tank: The co-rotating camera switches off when the power to the rotating table is switched off, which is the easiest way for the rotation to be switched off. So yeah. Below you see Torge trying to save the day by holding his laptop above the tank to give students a look into the tank after it stopped. Oh well…

But all in all, it worked super well and it’s great to see how virtual teaching and learning can be a really good substitute for in-person classes. But we are still looking forward to the times when we can all play together again!


Even though I haven’t done a #WaveWatchingWednesday in a looong time, there has of course been a lot of wave watching going on. But the longer I wait with copying all the Instagram posts into a blog post, the more work it gets, the longer I put it off. Vicious circle! But here we go today. Plenty of interesting and plenty of beautiful pics! Enjoy!

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A workshop on building and maintaining a mentoring network in academia

Last week I gave a workshop on “taking ownership of your own mentoring” at Kiel University again (link to the pptx slides in case you want to give a similar workshop yourself). This is one of my favourite topics to talk about (especially in combination with how to use social media for that purpose; and I love getting the participants’ feedback that they realized during the workshop that they already have a much larger network than they were aware of, and that they are excited to work with it more purposefully in the future) and since I redid my slides for the purpose, here is the workshop in a nutshell.

What I always find super important to point out:

  1. Good mentoring is not a magical unicorn. It is possible (and not terribly difficult) to find it! But make sure that you don’t overtax one person with all your mentoring demands, it makes much more sense to build a network of many different peoples so there are built-in redundancies ;-)
  2. Mentoring has many different facets. It helps to be aware of what they are in general as well as what aspects are most relevant to you right now. But also considering the aspects that aren’t relevant right now but still building a network for to help in those areas is probably a good idea.
  3. Mentoring can be found almost anywhere and at any time. In my workshop, you learn where & how to do it!
  4. SUPER IMPORTANT: Mentoring is not a one-way street. Of course you cannot always mentor everybody back the same way they mentor you, and in many cases it’s probably not even appropriate to try. BUT: That’s where the network idea comes in. Pay it forward, or help someone else out. You can be as much of a mentor to many people as others are to you. And you should be aware of that and try to fill the mentor-role, too!

And this is “The Mentoring Map” that we suggest: For all the different aspects of mentoring, you should try and put at least three-ish names of people or organizations (for details on the individual mentoring facets, check out the chapter we published on it)

And here are a couple of ideas where you can find people for all those different facets:

As if meeting people wasn’t difficult enough, now, in covid-19 times, it has become even more difficult. So that’s why the next three sessions of the workshop will look at how mentoring can be found via social media. Looking forward to working more with that group of young scientists, some of which have already connected with me on social media. See, it is working! :-)

P.S.: If you are intersted in this workshop, please feel free to contact me. It works great virtually :-) Here is a link to the pptx slides in case you want to give a similar workshop yourself. Please feel free to use, share, modify! Any questions, suggestions, comments, please let me know!

Taylor column in rheoscopic fluid

I have a slightly complicated history with Taylor column experiments — even though the experiments look fine compared to all other videos I’ve found online, I somehow always had higher expectations.

But now I’ve tried doing the experiment in a rheoscopic fluid (approximately 2cm of it over the hockey puck) and it looks a whole lot better in person than in these pics!

Here is a movie of the experiment. The Taylor column is created by first spinning up the tank to (almost, or in my case not quite because I didn’t have enough time but really wanted to try this) solid body rotation, and then slightly reducing the rotation rate (and then slightly increasing it again) in order to create a flow relative to the obstacle.

In the movie it becomes quite clear that while in the very beginning a lot of fluid gets advected across the puck, this does not happen when the fluid is (close to) solid body rotation. Then, there is a column of fluid (the Taylor column) spinning on top of the obstacle.

But there are other cool features visible in the movie, like the shear instabilities around the puck, and the lee waves downstream of it.

Can’t wait to spin this up to full solid body rotation on Thursday and try again!

New article out in Frontiers for Young Minds

On Friday, my third article for Frontiers for Young Minds, the journal peer-reviewed by kids, was published (and with an adorable cover pic at that, and the journal was so incredibly kind to change it from a previous version in order to have a female scientist on the research ship!).

The article “Are Warm Ocean Currents Melting the Ice in Antarctica?” was written by Nadine Steiger, Elin Darelius, Anna Wåhlin, and myself based, among others, on the research we did on the 13-m-diameter rotating swimming pool in Grenoble three years ago, that was published in Nature earlier this year. I am so grateful to have been part in this amazing project with the best team!

And, as always, publishing in Frontiers for Young Minds was a really positive experience. Interacting with the young reviewers is always fun, and the staff at the journal is super helpful. I’ve been working as an associated editor with Frontiers for Young Minds for a while now, too, and I just love the whole experience. Totally recommend!

See all my Frontiers for Young Minds articles here:

Visualizing boundary layers using rheoscopic fluid

Or: How does momentum get transferred from a rotating tank to the water?

I recently noticed — and it was confirmed by observations and student feedback that my friend Kjersti got — that it is not at all obvious to students how momentum gets transferred from a rotating tank into the water. For me, the explanation “friction” always seemed sufficient. But Kjersti asked her students about it, and for them friction was something that can only slow down things, not speed them up. So I’ve been trying to find a good way to show how the water is actually spinning up and down: From the sides towards the center, and from the bottom up.

I am using a rheoscopic fluid here (prepared after Borrero-Echeverry, 2018, plus blue food coloring). Rheoscopic fluid is “current showing”, as in it looks homogeneous as long as there is no current shear, but as soon as there is shear, these silvery structures show up, thus showing all the small turbulent motion going on in the tank. (The rheoscopic fluid is not transparent, so you can only see the surface and cannot look into the tank)

Here is a movie, where I am first switching on the rotation and spinning up the water, (then bumping against the rotating table, sorry!), then switching the rotation off again and spinning the water down.

Can you see how when the tank starts spinning, shear instabilities at the side wall of the tank form? This turbulent boundary layer grows over time. I didn’t let the tank spin up to solid body rotation but switched it back off maybe half way there. When the tank stops rotating, a similar thing happens: A turbulent boundary layer forms and slows down the water from the outside in (and bottom up).

So basically this:

Borrero-Echeverry, D., Crowley, C. J., & Riddick, T. P. (2018). Rheoscopic fluids in a post-Kalliroscope world. Physics of Fluids, 30(8), 087103.