hero image
Michael Dennin - UC Irvine. Irvine, CA, US

Michael Dennin

Vice Provost of Teaching and Learning; Dean of Undergraduate Education; Professor of Physics | UC Irvine


Prof. Dennin is leading the evolution of teaching and learning on the college campus, and he is a top communicator of all issues of physics.



Michael Dennin Publication




Why Success Doesn't Always Equal Straight A's | Michael Dennin | TEDxUCIrvine Fireside Chat on Teaching and Learning ft. Michael Dennin and Ryan Foland - UC Irvine Interview With Renowned Physicist Professor Michael Dennin




Professor Dennin earned his A. B. from Princeton University, and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Barbara. He held a postdoctoral position at UCLA. He is an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow and a Research Corporation Cottrell Scholar.

Professor Dennin's main research interest is systems that exhibit emergent properties. These include the behavior of complex fluids, such as foam and sand, as well as the complex dynamics of biological systems.

Professor Dennin is well-known for popularizing science for the public. He has taught many online courses on the nature of science, including team teaching a MOOC based on the television program, The Walking Dead. He has appeared on a number of television programs, including Spider-man Tech, Batman Tech, Star Wars Tech, and Ancient Aliens.

Areas of Expertise (6)

Teaching and Learning in Higher Education

Condensed Matter Physics

Undergraduate Education



Science of super heros

Accomplishments (5)

UCI Senate Distinguished mid-Career Award for Service (professional)

2011 - 2012

UCI Award for Instructional Technology (professional)

2008 - 2009

UCI Extension UCI Irvine Faculty Award (professional)

2008 - 2009

UCI Academice Senate Distinguished Faculty Award for Teaching (professional)


UCI Teaching Excellence Award, School of Physical Sciences (professional)


Education (2)

University of California, Santa Barbara: PhD, Physics 1995

Princeton University: AB, Physics 1988

Affiliations (3)

  • American Physics Society
  • American Association of Teachers
  • American Association for Advancement of Science

Media Appearances (8)

Data-Based Decisions Tip: Removing Barriers to Completion With Policy RevisionData-Based Decisions Tip: Removing Barriers to Completion With Policy Revision

Inside Higher Ed  online


To boost completion rates among students, the University of California, Irvine, used data to work collaboratively with institutional divisions to reimagine major-change policies. … UCI Compass is a universitywide initiative that organizes data sets for interdisciplinary collaboration, focused on the student journey and barriers to success. Through Compass, the university has built a “student data warehouse,” pulling information across enrollment management analytics, the Office of Institutional Research and academic departments, explains Michael Dennin, vice provost for teaching and learning and dean of undergraduate education.

view more

How the idea of ‘excellence’ can be misleading in higher education

Times Higher Education  online


Michael Dennin, UCI professor of physics and astronomy, dean of undergraduate education and vice-provost for teaching and learning writes, “In March the University of California, Irvine hosted the Waypoints Symposium. This meeting brought together representatives from more than 30 institutions to discuss questions in higher education, especially around equity and inclusion. Among the exciting ideas and themes, two stood out to me in particular: the challenge of time for both students and faculty, and the concept of “excellence”. These themes reminded me of several key learning moments in my career.”

view more

THE Podcast: when pop culture meets academia

Times Higher Education  radio


In this episode of the Campus podcast, Michael Dennin, a professor of physics and astronomy in the School of Physical Sciences at the University of California, Irvine, talks about using superheroes (and zombies) to bring the dynamics of physics into the classroom. Michael, who is also dean of undergraduate education, vice-provost for teaching and learning, and the recipient of UCI Senate teaching and innovation awards, explains how his approach enriches traditional physics problems, encourages creativity, and champions teamwork and interdisciplinarity.

view more

ChatGPT is Everywhere

The Chronicle of Higher Education  online


Michael Dennin, vice provost for teaching and learning at the University of California, Irvine, expects to see a lot of experimentation on his campus as instructors sort out what tools are appropriate to use at each stage of a student’s career. It reminds him of what his mother, a high-school math teacher, went through when graphing calculators were introduced. The initial reaction was to ban them; the right answer, he says, was to embrace and use them to enhance learning. “It was a multiyear process with a lot of trying and testing and evaluating and assessing.”

view more

Science vs. Faith / UFO Investigations

Coast to Coast AM  radio


Professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California- Irvine, Michael Dennin is well-known for popularizing science for the public. In the first half, he discussed miracles, free will, and why science and faith do not have to exist in conflict. The "fullness of reality" could be thought of as God, he suggested. We can ponder the properties of God, he said: "If you're a religious person, you're going to say that God knows you...and has some sort of relationship with you," and "what an atheist is really saying is that reality has no consciousness, no connection to people." Prayer could be thought of as a kind of non-physical communication with God, he added.

view more

Business Journal’s 2020 Innovators Keep Winning

Orange County Business Journal  online


Featured in Chapter 10 Innovators.

view more

How the pandemic changed higher education in California

EdSource  online


Michael Dennin, UC Irvine’s vice provost for teaching and learning, said Newsom’s proposal reinforces a “false dichotomy” by pitting online vs. in-person classes. Rather than focusing on increasing the percentage of online classes, Dennin said colleges and their faculty should use what they’ve learned during the pandemic to teach each class in the most effective way possible. He predicted that would result in many more hybrid courses that mix online and in-person elements.

view more

Do Spider-Man, Superman break the laws of physics?

OCRegister  online


“The force of Lois Lane is actually less if she just hits the ground then if Superman catches her, unless he catches her in a very specific way,” said Michael Dennin, professor of physics and astronomy at UC Irvine and one of the presenters Saturday. “The cool thing about superheroes when it comes to physics is some of what they do is consistent with the law of physics and some of what they do is not.”

view more

Articles (5)

Exact Solution of a Strongly Coupled Gauge Theory in 0 + 1 Dimensions

Physical Review Letters

Chethan Krishnan and K. V. Pavan Kumar

2018 Gauged tensor models are a class of strongly coupled quantum mechanical theories. We present the exact analytic solution of a specific example of such a theory: namely, the smallest colored tensor model due to Gurau and Witten that exhibits nonlinearities. We find explicit analytic expressions for the eigenvalues and eigenstates, and the former agree precisely with previous numerical results on (a subset of) eigenvalues of the ungauged theory. The physics of the spectrum, despite the smallness of N, exhibits rudimentary signatures of chaos.

view more

Quantifying flow and stress in ice mélange, the world’s largest granular material

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Justin C. Burton, Jason M. Amundson, Ryan Cassotto, Chin-Chang Kuo, and Michael Dennin

2018 Ice mélange, a granular collection of broken icebergs ranging from tens of meters to hundreds of meters in size, sits in front of many of the Earth’s most active tidewater glaciers. In addition to influencing heat and mass transport in the ocean, the jam-packed mélange provides a geophysical living laboratory to test principles developed for small-scale granular materials such as sand.

view more

Bubble ribbons under imposed flow

Colloids and Surfaces A: Physicochemical and Engineering Aspects

Chin-Chang Kuo, Alex Levine, Michael Dennin

2017 Bubble rafts consisting of a single layer of bubbles floating on the surface of water have proven to be an important model system for studying materials ranging from crystalline systems to amorphous solids to complex fluids. An interesting question in foams and complex fluids is how the detailed nature of the bubble–bubble interactions determines the resulting stable states of the system, especially in the context of different approaches to generating the foam or complex fluid.

view more

Understanding flow and stress in ice mélange: the world's largest granular material

AGU Fall Meeting Abstracts

Burton, J. C.; Amundson, J. M.; Cassotto, R.; Kuo, C. C.; Dennin, M.

2017 In tidewater glacial fjords, the open water in front of the glacier terminus is often filled with a collection of calved iceberg fragments and sea ice. For glaciers with large calving rates, this "mélange" of ice can be jam-packed, so that the flow is mostly determined by granular interactions. In the jammed state, ice mélange can potentially influence the stress balance on the glacier terminus, calving rates of icebergs, dispersion and attenuation of ocean waves, injection of freshwater into fjords, and fjord circulation, although detailed measurements of ice mélange are lacking due to the inherent dangers of instrumenting remote, ice-choked fjords.

view more

Stable small bubble clusters in two-dimensional foams

Soft Matter

Kai Zhang, Chin-Chang Kuo, Nathaniel See, Corey O'Hern, Michael Dennin

2017 Key features of the mechanical response of amorphous particulate materials, such as foams, emulsions, and granular media, to applied stress are determined by the frequency and size of particle rearrangements that occur as the system transitions from one mechanically stable state to another. This work describes coordinated experimental and computational studies of bubble rafts, which are quasi-two dimensional systems of bubbles confined to the air–water interface.

view more