SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. -

A local teacher received a top honor for sharing his love of science with his students.

We stopped by his classroom to see what makes this Sullivan South High School teacher one of excellence.

For 22 years, Tom Rutherford has been doing what he loves -- teaching students about the world we live in through physical science, chemistry, and astronomy. "It just seems like I was born that way," he told us. "I've always liked science."

In year 23, Rutherford is getting a nod from the Tennessee Academy of Science as its Distinguished
Teacher of the Year.

As we learned, that's because this teacher goes beyond the textbook. Rutherford encourages and guides his students to their own research and analysis. "One of them looked for transiting exoplanets, which are planets orbiting other stars," he said. "That's a really big focus in the news now. Another tried to come up with a way to predict how distorted colliding galaxies are."

Some of his students have even been published while still in high school. "They really were doing projects that led to results that were unknown," he laughed.

This devotion to science and students is encouraging to his coworkers, like physics teacher Joe Smith. "He does a lot of work that nobody ever sees or appreciates, because it's stuff that's only interesting to a few people," Smith said.

But if his passion rubs off on just one student, for Rutherford it's well worth the effort. "When you have a student who it clicks with, and you realize, you know they're getting it, you know they understand what you're talking about, it really is a nice feeling," he said.

Rutherford will be going to Nashville on Friday to officially receive his award.

here are some fun facts -- he also teaches German at Sullivan South. Also, our very own News 5 reporter Meredith Machen was a student in his class. She tells us everything she knows about chemistry came from him.