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Joseph A'Hearn

Joseph A'Hearn

about the teacher

Joseph A'Hearn lives in Moscow, Idaho. He is currently a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in Physics at the University of Idaho. He has been teaching high school Physics for Memoria Press Online Academy since the Fall of 2018 and is excited to start teaching high school Astronomy for Kepler Education.

Joseph was raised in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. He attended high school at Immaculate Conception Apostolic School in Center Harbor, New Hampshire, a vocational center for boys considering the Catholic priesthood in the Legionaries of Christ. He continued on in the Legionaries of Christ and was sent to Monterrey, Mexico, for his two-year Novitiate. After professing temporal vows in 2007, he completed an A.A. in Humanities at the Legion of Christ College of Humanities in Cheshire, Connecticut. He then spent two years in Rome, Italy, and completed a B.A. in Philosophy summa cum laude from the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum. Taking a break from studies, he did a year of youth work in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. In 2012 he returned to the Legion of Christ College of Humanities in Cheshire, Connecticut, this time as a teacher. After teaching a weeklong summer Astronomy course, during his year there he taught courses on Physics, Geometry, World History, Latin, and Greek. During that year he discerned in prayer that God was not calling him to the priesthood.

Joseph returned to his parents’ home in the suburbs of Chicago. After a couple of semesters at local community colleges, he transferred to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. There he participated in the leadership of several clubs, including roles as the President of the Philosophy Club and as an officer of the UI Astronomical Society, training other students to operate the historic UI Observatory Telescope. In his last semester, under Dr. Paul Ricker, he began investigating co-orbital dynamics and did a study about whether a massive Earth co-orbital would increase the likelihood of a collision with any of the forty largest potentially hazardous asteroids. In May of 2016 he graduated from the University of Illinois with a B.S. in Physics, with a specialization in Astrophysics, and Philosophy.

Joseph then moved to Moscow, Idaho, to begin graduate school at the University of Idaho. There he has worked as a Teaching Assistant in Physics lab courses on Astronomy and on Electricity, Magnetism, and Optics, and as a Research Assistant, investigating the dynamics of Saturn’s faint rings and inner moons, under Dr. Matthew Hedman. In June 2019 Joseph was united in holy matrimony to his lovely bride Lilia, who grew up in western Washington. They enjoy going on adventures together and they welcomed their first child to the world in March 2020. In his spare time, Joseph enjoys reading as well as playing softball, basketball, chess, and bass guitar.

Teaching Philosophy

Although I enjoy researching unsolved problems in astrophysics and planetary science, I find my role as an educator to be the most important and fulfilling. I am convinced that I have a calling and gift for teaching. I am also committed to the mission of helping our culture understand the compatibility between science and faith.

Because I am an effective teacher only to the degree that my students learn, my students must be motivated to learn. Thus teaching is not merely passing on information and training in problem-solving methods, but especially a contagious excitement to discover new knowledge and to be a witness of a coherent life. The teachers that impacted me the most when I was a student were the ones who inspired me and whom I could look up to not only as a teacher but also as a role model. For this reason, that is what I aspire to be.

To encourage learning, I make myself approachable to students. To help students understand a concept, it helps to make it memorable. I do this by giving examples, telling stories, and even sharing jokes. My students never forget my visual demonstration of conservation of angular momentum when they see me spinning in an office chair and changing my moment of inertia by extending my arms and then bringing them back in.

To keep students motivated when they have fallen short, I like to give positive feedback. When I grade papers and have to take some point off for an incorrect answer to a problem, I give partial credit for anything the students did correctly, and I not only tell them what they did wrong but also what they did right. Email communication is important in online classes, both with students and with their parents. My policy is to respond to these emails less than 24 hours after I receive them. On the first day of each month, I email the parents of any student who is getting below an 84 in my class. Students that have maintained good communication with me have consistently improved their performance.

Students from my first year of online teaching at Memoria Press that have reached out have said that they loved my class. The year before, a student from my astronomy lab at the University of Idaho transferred to a different university and added an Astronomy minor. Because I am aware, however, that most of my students will not become astrophysicists, and because I believe that as a teacher I must educate the whole person, I want to leave them with good life lessons in addition to a solid foundational knowledge of the science that I teach them.

Finally, I believe that teaching is also part of the life-long learning process. I continue to learn through my own reading, research, and conversations. I even learn from my students when they challenge me with questions that I have not considered. I take feedback seriously and learn from each new experience. In sum, my pedagogical strategies are dedicated to teaching science and inspiring learning in ways that will remain with the student long after he or she leaves my classroom.

Statement of Faith

I believe in God, three and one. I believe that God the Father created the Universe and all that is in it. I believe that God the Son entered the cosmos and became man at a specific moment in human history. I believe that God the Holy Spirit continues to act in the Church and in the world. God calls man to seek him, know him, and love him. Because we had sinned, Jesus, who is both God and man, lived so as to show us how to live, died on a cross to redeem us from sin, and rose from the dead so that we might believe in him.
The same God is the God of faith and the God of science, and for this reason, there can be no contradiction between the two. Because God is the Word, Logos, he has created an intelligible world so that we humans could understand it and use this knowledge in our stewardship.

I am a practicing Roman Catholic and have been my whole life. I currently attend St. Augustine’s Catholic Church in Moscow, Idaho. I spent eleven years in the Legionaries of Christ, a religious congregation, discerning a call to the priesthood. After discovering through prayer that God was not calling me to the priesthood, I returned to lay life and began pursuing a career in science, while continuing to be involved in philosophy- and faith-related activities. Besides partaking in fellowship with various young adult Catholic groups, I have led men’s Bible studies, given talks on local retreats, organized faith and science symposia, and participated in international missions to build homes for the needy. Since I recently became a husband and father, I have given priority to these new roles, with the commitment to help my wife and family get to heaven. I still give frequent talks in Catholic circles on matters of science and faith. I also direct a Pints With Aquinas chapter that meets weekly for supplemental formation in philosophy and theology. Teaching science for a Christian online school has been another avenue for me to unite my faith with my professional life and give witness to the compatibility of faith and science.

Video Introduction

Show Less


Dynamics of Multiple Bodies in a Corotation Resonance:
Conserved Quantities and Relevance to Ring Arcs
J.A. A’Hearn, M.M. Hedman, M. El Moutamid, The Astrophysical Journal 882:66 (2019)
Award: Outstanding Research Poster
Are Moonlets Hidden Among the Clumps in Saturn’s Innermost Ring?
Graduate Division at the University of Idaho College of Science Research Expo 2019, Moscow, ID
Award: American Astronomical Society Hartmann Travel Grant
partial scholarship to attend the 2019 EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting in Geneva, Switzerland


Physics and Philosophy