John Pfotenhauer

My childhood provided me with many advantages. Our family of six, myself, my dad, mom and three sisters, was filled with fun and lots of love. I was dramatically introduced to a close walk with Jesus at age seven, and because my father was a well-known pastor and speaker, home life included many visits, some short some long, by a variety of wise and influential persons. With so many rich infusions you might find it surprising, but hopefully understandable, that the focus of my attention was predominantly on myself. Growing up through the 1970’s, the so-called ‘me generation,’ reinforced that focus. I was confident and content in my own spiritual walk, and not really concerned with how others were getting along. Both Mom and Dad instilled the value of diligence and hard work, and I attended to my education and household responsibilities with a strong sense of duty, a pursuit of perfection, and a sprinkle of spontaneity. I have always loved the challenge of learning and enjoy its associated rewards. My mom is also a very clean and orderly person, and an involuntary propensity for structure, order, and cleanliness resides in my genes as well. These same characteristics drew me toward the sciences and to the field of physics. I knew already in high school that my major in college would be physics, and while pursuing that major discovered a fascination with low temperature physics and cryogenics. Graduate work devoted to a topic of heat transfer in liquid helium, and a subsequent post-doctoral position in the Applied Superconductivity Center at the University of Wisconsin – Madison launched me into a 3-year, multi-million-dollar project related to superconducting magnetic energy storage. Although the project attracted plenty of favorable professional attention, my devotion to its success nearly ruined my marriage, and brought a swell of complaints from the graduate students in our group regarding my steamroller use of the ‘shared’ lab space and complete disregard for their use of the same facilities. I recall apologizing at the time, but more significantly recognizing that the complaints had a familiar sound – consistent with ones coming from my marriage and home. Because of my happy childhood and educational success, I entered married life with a solid conviction that my spiritual and practical life was very healthy and sound. Through my marriage I became acutely aware of my consistently self-centered tendencies. I am so grateful to God for his patience; that he allows such a long time for us to wake up to the fallacies in our thinking. Sometimes these take a life time to correct. While in high school the words of a contemporary Christian song penetrated my self-assured (I’m a good guy) thoughts: “I’ve got news for you, we are all to blame.” A few years later Jesus’ admonition “To whom much is given, much will be required” (Luke 12:48) further unsettled my comfortable thoughts. Marriage and raising children compelled me to consider the needs of others above my own; a challenge that was at times rewarding, but always difficult for me. In fact, in this regard I outright failed many times and now readily include myself in Paul’s description “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” God has been slowly but effectively releasing me from my inaccurate self-image as an ‘all around good guy’ and welcoming me to let go of my self-centered patterns. The growing new perspective as one genuinely in need of God’s grace enables me to readily grant grace to those around me, to not fall apart when I make mistakes, and to gladly share in our common reliance on Jesus to provide what we lack. One of the most attractive features of my role as a Professor is the opportunity I have to invest in the success of others, my students. The challenge presents a constant reminder that my life is not my own, and that I have been called to serve rather than to be served. These days I enjoy singing a song stating: “We’re all broken, but we’re all in this together. God knows we stumble and fall …”. I continue to pursue excellence in my research, and still thoroughly enjoy the process of learning. Nevertheless, I am convinced that the value of my contributions as a Professor will grow out of my efforts to help others rather than in making a name for myself.

My Life

Favorite Quote

"Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire" Plutarch: Moralia, On Listening to Lectures 48C (LCL 1.256-259)

Friends describe me

Caring, thoughtful, honest, "I would trust him with my life"

My hobbies

Photography, hiking in the mountains, playing bluegrass music

Fantasy dinner guests

Randy Stonehill, Jimmy Stewart, C.S. Lewis

Best advice I ever received

(when lacking friends) Keep working on my relationship with Jesus, and the friends will come along.

My undergrad alma mater

St. Olaf College

In college I drove

VW wagon

If I weren't a professor, I would

Work in a national lab and volunteer preach in a church

Favorite books

The Bible, The Testament (Grisham), Hearing God (Dallas Willard), Lord of the Rings (Tolkein)

Favorite movies

Groundhog Day, Castaway, It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World

Favorite city

Hangzhou, China

Favorite coffee

Tea - Da Hong Pao

My latest accomplishment

Harvesting more than 100 peaches from my three-year-old (contender) peach tree here in Madison Wisconsin!

Current Research

Cryogenic Engineering: Cryogenic pulsating heat pipes, Joule-Thomson cryocoolers, design of superconducting magnets to shield astronauts from long-term exposure to cosmic rays. Undergraduate Engineering: developing a virtual reality app to help students capture key concepts in undergraduate thermodynamics