A professor from The Australian National University (ANU) helping humanity deal with the deadly consequences of parasites, including malaria, has been named one of Australia’s best science teachers.

Professor Alexander Maier, from the ANU Research School of Biology, has taken out the science category in the 2023 Australian Awards for Teaching Excellence, announced by Universities Australia overnight.

The award recognises Professor Maier’s innovative approach to teaching the science of parasites, including through pop culture and even a flea circus, which challenges students’ preconceptions.

Professor Alex Maier (right) in the lab with a student. Photo: Jamie Kidston/ANU

“Led by research, Alexander’s interdisciplinary, concept-based approach has generated exceptional outcomes in undergraduate and postgraduate courses, as well as professional development programs both nationally and internationally,” his award citation reads.

“Alex uses authentic tasks, role play and popular culture anecdotes to make parasitology a hands-on learning experience that extends well beyond the walls of the lecture theatre.”

Professor Maier’s teaching also aims to help students appreciate the role of parasites in ecosystems, rather than seeing them solely as threats to human and animal health.

“My students come into my courses knowing that parasites threaten the health of millions of people,” Professor Maier said. “But they don’t think about how they stabilise ecosystems and drive biodiversity.

“We also learn how to deal with complex systems and challenge our own values and moral compass.”

Professor Maier said he is passionate about passing on his knowledge to the next generation of scientists.

“Each student has their own ambition and their own talents,” he said.

“And it’s my job to try to find out what drives those students and try to bring out the best of them so that they can contribute to the problem that those parasitic diseases actually represent.”
In announcing the awards, Universities Australia Chair Professor David Lloyd said “teachers have one of the most important jobs in the world”.

“And universities simply couldn’t do what they do each year without them,” Professor Lloyd said.
“These awards recognise the most outstanding teachers and programs across the sector, celebrating university teachers at different stages in their careers, from early-career academics to those who have devoted a lifetime to learning and teaching.

“It’s a way we can acknowledge exceptional university programs and teachers and say thank you for the commitment they display each and every day.”

Learn more about Professor Maier’s research at ANU Reporter.

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