Eric Mazur is a leading physicist and educator at Harvard University and an entrepreneur in technology start-ups for the educational and photonics markets. Mazur's research is in experimental ultrafast optics and condensed matter physics. Born in Amsterdam, Netherlands, he received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from Leiden University.
Mazur studied physics and astronomy at Leiden University. He passed his "doctoraal examen" (equivalent to a master's degree) in 1977 and continued his graduate studies at the same institution. In 1981 he obtained his Ph.D on a thesis entitled "The structure of non-equilibrium angular momentum polarizations in polyatomic gases." Although he intended to go on to a career in industry with Philips N.V. in Eindhoven, he left Europe at the urging of his father, Peter Mazur, to pursue a postdoctoral study with recent Nobel laureate Nicolaas Bloembergen at Harvard University.
After two years as a postdoc, Mazur was offered a position of assistant professor at Harvard University. In 1987 he was promoted to associate professor and obtained tenure three years later in 1990. Mazur currently holds a chair as Balkanski Professor of Physics and Applied Physics jointly in the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and in the Physics Department. He is also the Dean of Applied Physics.
Mazur's research continues to focus on ultrashort laser pulse interactions and novel nonlinear optical devices. In collaboration with a group from Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China, Mazur's group was the first to develop a technique for pulling subwavelength diameter silica optical fibers. These wires guide light in the form of an evanescent wave, permit very sharp bending of the light.
In 1991, Mazur began designing an instructional strategy for teaching called peer instruction. In 1997, he published a book called "Peer Instruction: A User's Manual," which provides details on this strategy.
Peer Instruction (PI) has been found to be more beneficial than class-wide discussion or lecture. In fact, according to an article in the March/April 2009 edition of Complexity, over 90 percent of instructors who have tried PI plan to continue to use it and incorporate it more into teaching.
Mazur has founded or co-founded at least two technology start-ups: SiOnyx, which makes military hardware, and Learning Catalytics, which in April 2013 he sold to the Pearson educational corporation.