Professor Profile: Dr. Susan D’Amato

By Jonathan Painter, Contributor

As a Furman alumna, Dr. Susan D’Amato understands the challenges of Furman’s academics and enjoys helping students through the complicated yet fascinating world of physics.
As a Furman alumna, Dr. Susan D’Amato understands the challenges of Furman’s academics and enjoys helping students through the complicated yet fascinating world of physics.

Q: Tell us a little bit about what you do here at Furman.

A: I teach physics and a first-year seminar in the Engaged Living program. I am also the administrative director at the Cothran Center for Vocational Reflection.

Q: How and why did you become a physics professor? What led you to this point?

A: I graduated from Furman in 1977. I majored in chemistry, but the part I really enjoyed was quantum mechanics. I got a masters in chemistry, but later decided to go back and get a Ph.D. in quantum physics, which is still my favorite area to teach.

Q: What is the coolest part of being a physics professor?

A: The coolest part about physics is getting to ask questions about the universe at the largest and smallest levels. Science has discovered many surprises in those realms. I love teaching relativity and quantum because they are so surprising and unintuitive. I particularly enjoy the mathematical aspect of it, and I really enjoy seeing students get interested in those things.

Q: How did you end up at Furman?

A: I knew I wanted to teach at a liberal arts college. Having gone to Furman, I knew it was exactly the environment I wanted to teach in. It was a lucky break that there was an opening in the physics department here just as I finished my Ph.D. at the University of South Carolina. It was mostly lucky timing.

Q: Were there any teachers or mentors who really helped you become who you are today?

A: As a chemistry major, Dr. Tony Arrington was my mentor for summer research, and I had several classes with him, including quantum chemistry. Dr. Knight in the chemistry department was another one of my teachers who I really appreciated. I also knew Dr. Brantley, but I did not have the chance to have a class with him. I only took the first two intro courses in physics.

Q: Can you share some of your own experiences in college/grad school?

A: Well, grad school was a lot harder than I expected. It was quite an adjustment, and that adjustment took a while. I went into physics not being an undergrad physics major, so I had a lot of catching up to do. That was stressful. For a while I didn’t have the foundation that I needed, but I had good friends in the grad school department who I worked with on homework. I had a really good quantum professor for several courses.

Q: What is your specific passion in your discipline?

A: Quantum theory in general, specifically the fact that it makes you rethink how it is that we know anything at all.

Q: Are you currently working on or have you published any research/books/papers/other projects?

A: My last published article was in the area of religion and science. It was published in a journal called “Theology and Science,” and it was about using metaphors from quantum physics as a tool for understanding the writings of Christian authors in the mystical tradition. I enjoyed that because it was a way to bring together two of my interests.

Q: What is your favorite movie, and why?

A: “The Right Stuff.” It really brings to life the kind of glamour and adventure of space exploration in the early days of the 50s and 60s. It also had an amazing soundtrack.

Q: Do you have any funny stories from your time as a professor?

A: I’ve got one. You know how we meet with advisees and their families when they first get here? One year I walked into the room and tripped and fell onto the mother of one of the advisees. It was quite embarrassing.

Q: Do you have any words of wisdom or life/academic advice to the Furman student community?

A: Enjoy your studies, enjoy your friendship, but also take time for yourself. People are very busy here.

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