Dr. Azael Barrera
PDF Print E-mail
“Physics is not about formulas, it's really about understanding the beauty of nature through the language of mathematics and by nurturing discovery, inquiry and creativity.”

Dr. Barrera is a former Fulbright Scholar with a doctoral degree in Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics supported in part by the National Science Foundation and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Oak Ridge Associated Universities.

FSU Panama is more directed toward teaching than advanced research, therefore solid experience in teaching is a must.  His teaching experience includes being firstly a teaching instructor at the University of Panama, then in Colorado as a teaching assistant, applying teaching and learning by “Inquiry” methods which includes what is called the Socratic Dialogue to help the student find themselves the solution of a problem by recursive questioning with the instructor and peers. In addition, students are continually confronted with common-sense conceptions learned in high-school that are scientifically wrong.  These teaching strategies help his students to achieve fundamental understanding of physics for their respective careers as scientists, engineers and even economists.

After returning to Panama Dr. Barrera found physics teaching needed urgent innovations, not only in the way it is taught but how knowledge is built by students, with some help from information and communication technologies. To change that status, he implemented the strategies mentioned and others into FSU.

Physics Studio

Dr. Barrera pioneered the implementation of Studio Teaching in Panama and the region.  Studio Teaching, introduced at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the early 1990s, is based on physics education research and combines inquiry and Socratic methods in an active learning environment that promotes teamwork, and by integrating the lectures with experimental and problem solving activities in a seamlessly way, making the learning process a fulfilling comprehensive activity. Studio puts must of responsibility of learning on the student.

The Studio format utilizes whiteboard digitizers, tablet PCs and multimedia projectors or smart boards for lecturing, pocket computers for data acquisitions and smart sensors, and a whiteboard per working group.

FSU Panama was the first academic program in Panama to implement the Studio Teaching based and supported by education research with the Physics Studio Classroom at its core.

Physics Studio B: Electromagnetism

Physics Studio, was created by Professor Jack Wilson in the mid-1990s, and is now used as the primary method to prepare scientists in FSU and the top twenty universities in the U.S.

In Dr. Barrera’s classes students are encouraged to learn by doing and to understand where relations and equations come from, as opposed to memorize them. In order to stimulate learning-by-doing, Dr. Barrera asks students to build a semester project as extra-credit work. The project must be a discovery science gadget that will demonstrate creative skills and conceptual applications of what is learned during the course, with the objective that a grade school kid will be able to discover by oneself some fascinating facts about natural phenomena.

Dr. Barrera teaches at FSU Panama the main Physics courses required for science and engineering, including Physics Studio A or PHY2048 and Physics Studio B or PHY2049, and has taught Mathematics courses, such as College Algebra and Analytic Trigonometry. He also conducts research on Physics Education at university and K-12 levels.

Outside of university life, Dr. Barrera has accomplished various milestones for the benefit of Panama and for the benefit of the poor in general, by utilizing science and technology in various ways.

In the scientific community he is member of the American Physical Society (APS) and the Optical Society of America. He is also member of the APS Forum for Physics and Society.

In the professional life, he was the director of development for new technologies with the National Secretary of Science, Technology and Innovation (SENACYT), in which he implemented the national internet access community centers known in Panama as Infoplazas, brought to Panama the Cisco Networking Academy, and was founder and implementer of the Panama’s node for the Latin America Research and Education Advanced Network Cooperation knows as CLARA. During his tenure at SENACYT he developed the Center for Research and Education for Information Tecnologies with a $1 M support from the government of South Korea as key to foster more professionals in the IT sector.

In the private life he has been a consultant for the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO) on the sustainability of information technologies for community development. He also represented the Republic of Panama in the preparation for the United Nations World Summit for the Information Society in 2003 held in Geneva, and in the United Nations Special General Assembly on Information Technologies for Development in 2004.

Dr. Barrera is also very active in natural and cultural heritage conservation, in particular, looking forward to rescue national historical trails such as the Camino Real de Cruces and the Camino Real de Nombre de Dios y Portobelo, which were the main colonial trade routes through Panama before the Transisthmian Railroad and the Canal.