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Dr. Jim Clarage Demonstrates What Makes the World Go Round

View a physics class focusing on conservation of angular momentum and learn more about Dr. James Clarage, a physics professor whose dramatic flair for explaining the most fundamental principles of nature occasionally prompts him to wear a toga.

If on any given day you were to walk into any of Dr. Jim Clarage’s classes, you might wonder if you had mistakenly wandered into a theater class instead of physics.

If he’s not standing at the front of the room giving a lecture in a toga and impersonating Pythagoras, he’s pushing around a cart full of interesting props. These props, he said, are used to demonstrate the laws and topics of his intended lecture. But it’s this kind of approach to teaching that really engages his students and makes each class fun and interesting.

Now teaching at UST for his second year, Clarage, who earned his doctorate at Brandeis University, had a background in theater before studying physics. He attributes that interest to the reason why he incorporates a dramatic element into each of his classes.

“It became clear to me that theater has a set of rules that engage people and capture their attention,” Clarage said. “Most of the time, there is a narrative behind a scientific law, so instead of reading the law straight from the textbook, I interpret it in narrative form. And the students really respond to that approach.”

Before coming to St. Thomas, Clarage taught courses in physics and astronomy at Rice University and the University of Houston. Now as an assistant professor of physics at UST, the Chicago native said he feels he has found a place he thoroughly enjoys, particularly because of its core values.

“What I like about St. Thomas is that it incorporates liberal arts as part of teaching, and it’s not all just about dry equations,” he said. “And I like the fact that you don’t have to be afraid of mentioning God in the classroom or bringing up questions of meaning.”

Outside of the classroom, Clarage enjoys spending quality time with his wife and two teenage sons, though he admits he’s usually on the losing end of any sports games with them.

“I actually have a lot of fun losing to my sons at basketball and tennis,” he said with a laugh. “I’m also certified in tai chi, and I can do all 108 forms.”
As a tai chi practitioner, it might not be too surprising if this theatrical professor showed off a few moves during one of his lectures.