2024 Wasserstrom Prize for Graduate Teaching Presented to Physics Professor Christian Santangelo

Award given in memory of noted professor of English William Wasserstrom.

Christian Santangelo
Physics Professor Christian Santangelo is the 2024 recipient of the William Wasserstrom Prize.

Christian Santangelo, professor and director of graduate studies in the physics department of the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S) and member of the BioInspired Institute, is the 2024 recipient of the William Wasserstrom Prize in recognition of his exemplary mentorship of graduate students. A&S Dean Behzad Mortazavi will confer the award on Santangelo at the Graduate School doctoral hooding ceremony on May 10.

The prize is awarded annually to a faculty member who exemplifies the qualities of William Wasserstrom, a professor of English at Syracuse University, who died in 1985. Wasserstrom was a scholar known for his broad interests and profound impact on learning, with a particular teaching interest in the graduate seminar. Since his death, Wasserstrom has been memorialized with this award by A&S for outstanding success as a graduate seminar leader, research and dissertation director, advisor and role model for graduate students.

Santangelo joined Syracuse University in 2019 and was named physics director of graduate studies in 2021. His research interests focus on soft condensed-matter physics and materials geometry, extreme mechanics, 4D printing and self-folding origami, design of mechanical metamaterials, and topological effect in nonlinear systems. He teaches Physics 1, Introduction to Quantum Mechanics, Quantum Mechanics and Advanced Statistical Mechanics.

He has co-authored 75 peer-reviewed articles, been quoted in multiple publications related to his research, presented at dozens of conferences and symposia and has received nearly $4.5 million in external grant funding for his work.

Santangelo recently served as “March Meeting” program chair for the Division of Soft Matter (DSOFT) of the American Physical Society. He was also the co-lead of the Smart Materials focus group within the BioInspired Institute at Syracuse University and a member of the College Level Liberal Arts Core Committee at A&S.

Santangelo has received several other awards and honors throughout his career, including the Glenn H. Brown Prize from the International Liquid Crystal Society, a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation, the Early Career Award from the APS DSOFT and he was named a Fellow of the American Physical Society.

“Professor Santangelo is certainly an example of the level of excellence Professor Wasserstrom represented, and a person whose extraordinary commitment to the mentorship of graduate students is deserving of recognition,” says Mortazavi. “His scholarship and the guidance and knowledge he has provided as a mentor in graduate education has positively impacted the physics department, its students and the entire College since he joined the University five years ago. It is an honor to present him with this award.“

Santangelo has mentored 20 graduate students and post-docs and has served as a research advisor for 12 undergraduates. Professor Mitchell Soderberg, associate chair, Department of Physics, notes that a common theme heard about Santangelo is his “knack for helping students develop as scholars—not by knowing all the answers but by helping them to recognize the best questions to pursue.”

Former students and colleagues submitted enthusiastic nomination letters that spoke to Santangelo’s qualifications for this award:

“As a mentor, Chris struck a perfect balance of being available for guidance and allowing independence. By imparting principles explicitly and through action, I learned from Chris how to identify interesting scientific problems, find strategies for tackling them, and navigate uncertainty and communication results,” says former student Salem Mosleh, a research associate at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. “He makes sure students get exposure to the scientific community, allowing me to attend conferences and meet collaborators—which helped me get my position at Harvard.”

“As his first Ph.D. student, I was fortunate to have Professor Santangelo as my mentor, and I can confidently say that he has a natural talent for selecting research problems that are interesting, challenging and relevant in the modern context of theoretical physics,” says Marcelo Dias, who is a senior lecturer in structural engineering at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. “Professor Santangelo’s extensive mathematical expertise and practical approach to research have contributed to my career development. His interest in interdisciplinary topics has led to collaboration with many researchers throughout my career.”

-Caroline K. Reff