Hanspeter Schaub has a passion for exploring the unknown—peering into uncharted areas of aerospace to push the boundaries of science and engineering.
As a professor and chair of the Ann and H.J. Smead Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences at CU Boulder, Schaub has made a career at the forefront of orbital mechanics, charged astrodynamics and space debris removal.
His work in space physics includes advancing tractor beam technology that is turning science fiction into science fact.
“I love learning and discovery,” Schaub said. “It’s almost like being an adventurer, exploring something that’s never been seen before.”
He has been recognized repeatedly by peers and outside organizations for excellence in both research and teaching, and CU Boulder is now presenting him with the university’s largest and most prestigious single faculty award: the Hazel Barnes Prize.
The honor recognizes outstanding teachers who also have distinguished records in research and scholarship.
“The essence of being a professor to me is integrating both teaching and research. Being acknowledged for that is humbling and exciting,” Schaub said.
A native of Switzerland, Schaub was drawn to aerospace at an early age after a seminal experience seeing the biggest movie of 1977.
“Star Wars. When it came out in Switzerland you had to be 16 at the time to see it. I was 10 or 11 and my older brother somehow snuck me in. I know it’s a movie, it’s not real, but it was very inspiring. I've always been fascinated with space,” he said.
As a professor, Schaub works to inspire and motivate his students by integrating current events, new research and technology into his classes. He was an early adopter of online distance education, developing MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) in Coursera that have become benchmarks.
“We want to reach everyone, not just people who can travel and live here in Boulder. I do it because it’s fun, but it’s very gratifying when someone comes up at a conference and says one of the online courses helped them.”
Schaub is a prolific researcher, as author or co-author of more than 200 journal papers and a popular textbook which is now in its fourth edition. He runs a large laboratory and is currently advising 17 doctoral students and 11 master’s candidates.
“Some faculty just think I’m crazy having a big lab, but students learn to lead and support the lab; they’re researchers who can help. I look at them not as a group of individuals, but as a team working toward common areas,” Schaub said.
As his lab expanded, Schaub sought out training in leadership and management to help him become a better mentor, and he now pushes his students to be strong leaders as well.
“I do workshops with them on how to write papers and proposals, how to use LaTeX and make illustrations. It helps them earn fellowships, and now I have a lab where I have their back and, quite frankly, they have mine, too,” Schaub said.
Schaub was officially presented with the Hazel Barnes Prize during a special ceremony held as part of May 2023 Campus Commencement.
“Being recognized is very nice, but what it really represents is my students,” Schaub said. “My husband and I don’t have kids, but you want to have an impact, a legacy. Seeing my students graduate and be happy and doing what they want to do. That’s the most important product.”