The DNA of UCD: Andreas Toupadakis, professor of chemistry
"Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel" -- Socrates --

Published October 8, 2008

UC Davis chemistry lecturer Andreas Toupadakis came to America from Greece in 1978 to get his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Michigan. After teaching at several universities around the country, he found a home at UCD several years ago.

Toupadakis has more holistic extracurricular interests than your average chemistry professor - including philosophy, life planning, gardening and making his own soap.

What classes do you teach? Do you have a favorite?

For four years now I have been teaching General Chemistry, the 2ABC series, for freshman students majoring in the life sciences. I also teach Physical Chemistry for Life Sciences, the 107AB series, mainly for fourth year students. This year I am also teaching Chemistry 10 for the first time, which is for students majoring in something other than science.

I do not think I can say I have a favorite. Each level of these classes satisfies a different part of me.

Do you have a specific lecture style?

I definitely have a certain lecture style. I emphasize conceptual understanding rather than mechanical memorization. To that end, I try to attract the type of students to join my classes who are willing to do the "chemistry walk" in order to understand the mystery of our universe and feel the joy that results from such understanding and appreciation. I encourage the students who join my classes to participate in a Socratic dialog. In a Socratic dialog, the "teacher" never answers the question directly. Instead of giving an answer to the student's question, the teacher replies with a question until the student sees the answer him/herself, until the answer comes from the teacher who lives within the student, until the student becomes the teacher him/herself.

What are your research or other scientific interests?

During the last several years, my research has been more towards better methods of teaching and writing in science and in general, how students can be more successful in maintaining sustainable happiness and real personal growth. To that end, with the help of one of my past students, Brian Tu, there is now a website with a lot of material related to "Success in College and After College: How to Get and Stay on Course." In addition, I am teaching a freshman seminar with the above title every quarter. That seminar grew out of informal lectures I used to give every quarter on the same topic. My other scientific interests are in green chemistry.

How did you get interested in life planning?

That is a good question. I feel I could write a series of books on the subject. As always is the case, any one of us suddenly can become a living spring of water from his/her life experiences. In my case, I always liked teaching and learning. I knew that from my first college years. But life circumstances caused me to drift away to work in various other work environments related to chemistry. Being so thirsty for expression and the discovery of human nature, I could not take being away from an academic teaching environment anymore. The issue became an issue of life and death; it was so strong. So I suddenly started on the new path by choosing to leave a very high-paying permanent position to take several temporary very low-paying positions. I know it sounds crazy but it happened, and it had a great impact on all the members of my family. I was very lucky to have the full support of my family.

What advice would you give a student on how best to choose a good career?

I would like to keep this answer short so anyone who reads this will always remember it. No pain, no gain. It is not without pain that we come to know who we are. By finding out who we are more every day, it is possible to "do" what we are. And by doing what we are, we are definitely home, gravitating effortlessly towards total success. Unfortunately, to have total success in life, inwardly and outwardly, a high GPA is not enough. To do what we love is very important but it still is not enough. Only if your personality type matches with what you are doing, where, how, when and with whom, then real success is within your reach. Therefore, I say to my students that if you want to be a success, know who you are.

Do you have any hobbies?

Yes, I have several hobbies. I love taking walks and spending time in nature. To that effect, I have gardens not only at my house but also at the Experimental College provided by the university. I encourage my students to get gardens so they can recalibrate themselves after studying and feel good about themselves. Some of them have responded. It is a great pleasure to meet them at the gardens and see them working with the soil and the plants. If you go to my personal website: you will see several pictures of the products of some of my hobbies.

I also took a class on how to make soap and now I am making it from all natural components. In order to encourage my students to have hobbies, I thought of the "Natural Soap Award," as I call it. For each class I teach, at the end, the student with the highest score gets a handmade soap. When they come to my office to pick up their award, while I am carving the "life curve" on it, I have the opportunity to tell them face to face how important it is to know themselves. I consider it very important especially for the students with high GPAs to be balanced in life. After all, most of them will end up in leadership positions and many people will be affected by their decisions. We must prepare these students the best way we can. I stress the fact that doing their work right would not be enough without considering the well being of others and our environment.

Who is your favorite scientist?

Albert Einstein is my favorite scientist, not only because of his bringing truth to science but because of his excellent personality and life values that perhaps most people are not aware of. Another reason is because of the way he spoke about my favorite person, Gandhi. "Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this walked the earth in flesh and blood" --Albert Einstein, in regard to Mohandas Gandhi.

Do you have a favorite quote?

"You Must Be The Change You Wish To See In The World" --Mohandas Gandhi.