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Ideal teacher-scholar

Martin Guthold acknowledges the challenge of being good at teaching and research simultaneously, but it is one he embraces.


As a German who earned his undergraduate degree in his native country and his graduate degrees in America, Martin Guthold is the product of two widely different teaching philosophies. He has no doubts about which one he prefers —and that helps account for his selection by students as this year's recipient of the Reid-Doyle Prize for Excellence in Teaching.

Martin Guthold

'My philosophy is to help my students,' says Martin Guthold, assistant professor of physics.

"One of the major differences between the German and American systems is that in Germany, professors are not very accessible for undergraduates," says Guthold, who is in his fourth year at Wake Forest as an assistant professor of physics. "When I came to the U.S., I immediately noticed how accessible they were. It was a stunning revelation.

"My philosophy is to help my students—to engage them, connect with them, and be available to them if they get stuck."

Guthold is one of many talented young faculty members hired over the last decade who epitomize the Wake Forest teacher-scholar ideal. A biophysicist who conducts innovative research on blood clotting mechanisms, he teaches introductory physics—the entry-level course taken by non-majors who have never had physics before.

"I put a good effort into preparing my classes, and I try to make the material more appealing visually by doing demonstrations and sample problems," he says. "I try to care for my students and be there for them so they can learn the material."

Away from class, Guthold and his research team—two graduate students, three undergraduates, and colleagues on the Bowman Gray Campus and at UNC-Chapel Hill—investigates the physical properties of fibrin fibers, the principal clotting agent in blood.

"Fibrin fibers perform a vital life function, but they can gather in the wrong places—in the arteries around the heart and those leading to the brain," he notes. "They also collect and form clots when blood vessels are restricted by cholesterol deposits. All of these conditions are primary predictors of strokes and heart attacks.

"An additional danger," he goes on, "is that part of a clot will break off, move through the bloodstream, and lodge in a vessel elsewhere in the body, causing an embolism to form that kills the tissue the vessel is feeding."

Using sophisticated microscopy equipment, Guthold and his colleagues are stretching and otherwise manipulating the fibers to understand and correlate their various physical states to serious clotting disorders such as hemophilia and thrombosis.

A native of Stuttgart, Guthold graduated from the University of Ulm, a small technical college, in 1989. He began his doctoral program at Ulm, then came to the University of Oregon on a one-year exchange in 1990. He ended up staying for seven years, completing his doctorate there, then did a three-year post-doc at UNC before his appointment at Wake Forest.

The personable and good-humored Guthold acknowledges the challenge of being good at teaching and research simultaneously, but it is one he embraces. "Wake Forest has high expectations in that regard," he says. "But that's okay; I have high expectations of myself."

David Fyten


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