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Martin T. Zanni
Chemistry

The poet William Butler Yeats once said, "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." Assistant Professor of Chemistry Martin T. Zanni embodies those words, say his students. The recipient of the 2005 Benjamin Smith Reynolds Award for Excellence in Teaching Engineering Students, Zanni is known for his energy and sense of humor, as well as for his exceptional ability to arouse his students' curiosity and motivate them to excel. He is so visibly excited and passionate about chemistry that he appears during lectures, "almost like a teenager with juicy gossip to tell," says a former student. Others say simply, "Zanni rocks!"

When he joined the chemistry faculty in 2002, Zanni became the first professor in the department's history to teach Chemistry 109 during his first semester on campus. The department's belief that he could manage the fast-paced introductory course — which includes many engineering students — was well founded: At semester's end, his student evaluations, "were among the highest I've seen for a first-semester instructor," says a colleague.

When he joined the chemistry faculty in 2002, Zanni became the first professor in the department's history to teach Chemistry 109 during his first semester on campus. The department's belief that he could manage the fast-paced introductory course — which includes many engineering students — was well founded: At semester's end, his student evaluations, "were among the highest I've seen for a first-semester instructor," says a colleague. What continues to distinguish Zanni's teaching is his tremendous desire and ability to engage students. He performs entertaining demonstrations during every lecture to help students relate abstract concepts to their daily lives. And even in classes of 300 people, Zanni continually poses questions that are both thought-provoking and fun, often calling on students by name to answer them. What continues to distinguish Zanni's teaching is his tremendous desire and ability to engage students. He performs entertaining demonstrations during every lecture to help students relate abstract concepts to their daily lives. And even in classes of 300 people, Zanni continually poses questions that are both thought-provoking and fun, often calling on students by name to answer them.

"In his class, we were all a team," says one student. "Professor Zanni made us so excited about learning chemistry, at moments it was like getting revved up for a big game — no joke."

Outside of class, Zanni not only spends extra time assisting students with their regular coursework, but also challenges them with additional assignments that extend their knowledge and help them, "see science not as a dry, textbook subject, but as an exciting and constantly evolving field of study," says another student.

Zanni earned a BS in chemistry and a BA in physics from the University of Rochester, and a PhD in chemistry from the University of California at Berkeley. After completing postdoctoral studies at the University of Pennsylvania, he came to UW-Madison in 2002. An active researcher, Zanni studies the structure and function of biomolecules by measuring their vibrational modes and couplings.

Zanni has received numerous research awards, including the Beckman Young Investigators Award as well as the National Science Foundation CAREER Award.