The Australian physics community is saddened by the recent passing of 2020 AIP Fellow Professor Les Kirkup after a short illness.
His contribution to Australian physics education was outstanding and recognised with a 2014 AIP Education medal.
Prof Kirkup was an enthusiastic teacher of physics at the higher education level. Originally from the UK, he joined the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) as a lecturer in 1990 and was one of the first to complete its Graduate Certificate in Higher Education Teaching and Learning.
He was known for his passion for inquiry-based learning of physics, both in laboratories and lectures. This was born of his awareness that students were unsatisfied with ordinary lectures and with following step-by-step lab experiments. So, instead, he advocated interactive, practical lectures. He also encouraged first-year physics students to design and conduct experiments of their own right from the start.
In 2011, Prof Kirkup’s work on inquiry-oriented learning was awarded a National Teaching Fellowship from the Australian Learning and Teaching Council. Together with former AIP President and current Australian Chief Scientist Cathy Foley, he developed a program that enabled undergraduate students to become familiar with the work and research of CSIRO since, in Prof Kirkup’s words, “the next generation of scientists needs to be introduced to new ideas and innovative ways of thinking as early as possible”.
Other recognitions of his work include a Carrick Associate Fellowship in 2007 and UTS Medal for Teaching and Research Integration in 2012. Prof Kirkup also wrote many popular textbooks on experimental methods and data analysis.
After retiring in 2016, Professor Kirkup was still active and committed to improving physics education. Recently, he wrote blogs on the value of peer review for students (here and here). His recommendations for teaching online physics labs under difficult COVID19 pandemic conditions were featured in the most recent edition of Australian Physics magazine.
Several personal tributes to Prof Kirkup have been posted on social media, including from Prof Geoffrey Crisp, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) at the University of Canberra. He said:
“Les was such a genuine person and had that quiet passion for making things better for students. His sense of humour, humility and generosity of spirit will be remembered by all those that knew him. Our thoughts are with your family Les and we will miss your company and insights.”