UT top 10 lecturer shakes up chemistry

Alay Shah

Chemistry lecturer Kate Biberdorf is known for her ‘Thundercloud Demonstration,’ which she sets off during class.

“I pour hot water into a bucket of liquid nitrogen, resulting in a large nitrogen cloud,” she said. “The students love it and I find their joy to be contagious.”

Every year, the Texas Alcalde, the Texas Exes Alumni publication, recognizes 10 faculty members who go above and beyond not only in the classroom, but also through community outreach.

Biberdorf, who received her Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry from UT Austin in 2014 and now serves as a general chemistry lecturer and director of demonstrations and outreach, is one of this year’s Texas 10.

Biberdorf said she teaches her students, mostly incoming freshmen, about how to adjust to college life as well as about chemistry.

“My favorite part of working with incoming freshman is that I am able to help my students become adults – we talk about stoichiometry, nuclear energy and how to do laundry,” Biberdorf said. “I am constantly reminding them to ‘drink water’ and ‘eat green stuff!’ I hope they listen to me.”

Business sophomore Prithvi Karyampudi said Biberdorf’s enthusiasm for teaching is refreshing.

“Biberdorf will do whatever she can to help you understand the material, and it’s obvious that she’s there because she loves her students and teaching,” Karyampudi said.

Mechanical engineering sophomore Kalli Kiefer said it was the small things that set Biberdorf apart. For instance, she played music at the beginning of class each day.

“Just hearing Back in Black blasting and walking in to see her dancing with her lab coat on made morning classes slightly more bearable,” Kiefer said.

Biberdorf brings this same enthusiasm to running Fun with Chemistry, an outreach program that visits K-12 schools and community events to get children excited about science.

“We target students that are intimidated by science and utilize hands-on demonstrations to foster a determination to pursue a science-related degree at the collegiate level,” Biberdorf said.

These objectives are accomplished through the development of new and compelling experiments to prove that chemistry is entertaining, Biberdorf said.

She added that she especially enjoys performing the ‘Thundercloud’ demonstration outside as part of the Fun with Chemistry, because the students can run through a giant cloud of nitrogen and experience the joy of chemistry.

Biberdorf said she never wants to stop teaching UT students chemistry and helping them understand the importance of a science education.

“I think it is very important to make evidence-based decisions in life,” she said. “I find it incredibly frustrating to live in a world of ‘alternative facts’ – it is my job as a science educator to show my students how to look at news articles and determine fact from fiction.”