Adam Riess became interested in science by an unnamed teacher at the same high school I attended many years ago, Watchung Hills Regional High School in Warren, New Jersey. At age 17, he attended the New Jersey Governor's School in the Sciences at Drew University, which was where he met Professor James Supplee, who taught a course in special relativity. Reiss, by his own admission, argued with Supplee, but left wanting to become a physicist. Reiss went on to attend MIT and Harvard, and is now a professor himself at Johns Hopkins.
He was awarded the 2006 Shaw Prize in Astronomy jointly with Saul Perlmutter and Brian P. Schmidt, as well as jointly winning the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of "dark energy, a force that makes up as much as 70 percent of the universe and is causing the cosmos to expand at an accelerating rate."
Now, I must admit I would have known none of this if it were not for the Drew Magazine Winter 2012 that arrived in the mail, with a great photo of James Supplee in the contents page, with the caption, "Who ignited a passion for physics in a 2011 Nobel winner?" Since one of my sons had the good fortune to know Supplee, I had years back clipped out of their student newspaper an article written by him, that has been taped to a wall in my house. In his own words it shows the generosity, humility, humor and spirit of the kind of person who should be a teacher:
"Free Drinks for Physicists"
So, here I am writing about what happened to me a mere three days ago, and every word is true. I walk into a bar in Hoboken to hear open-mic blues. It's a cool system: musicians put their names on the blackboard, and the host calls five or six names and these people jam together. I'm listening partly because I want to gauge how long it will be before I am ready to step up. I'm guessing a couple of years yet; these guys are good. I'm alone, and I sit next to a stranger. His name is Mike. He introduces himself, and starts complaining about his physics teacher. What are the odds? Well, okay. Maybe he's having a hard time in physics?
No. He's twenty-eight, and he's complaining about a teacher from years ago. On the first day the teacher used that old scare tactic: "Look at the person on your left. Look at the person on your right. Of the three of you, one will pass this course." Mike was one of the two who didn't. Mike gives me some background: "I did all the homework. I went to the T.A. I got help. I attended every class." Then, "On the first test I got a seven. Seven! Out of a hundred." The professor told him to learn physics from a tutor first, and then try the course again the next year.
Having already confessed to being a physics professor, and having asked that he not take out his anger on me, I tell him the simple truth: It's not that way at Drew. We all teach as helpfully as we know how. People help each other. And courses aren't curved. If everybody does well, everybody gets a good grade." Mike yells to the bartender, "Christine, get this guy a drink." Whadda ya know? A free drink in a bar for simply trying to teach my best. When I get home, I tell all this to my wife. Her advice is that I keep going to this bar. Maybe god is speaking to me through this bar. My wife thinks the message is excellent: Teach as helpfully as I can. I'll try my best. I swear.
Dr. Jim Supplee