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Media Release | Mar. 20, 2006

Nobel Laureate Joins UBC to Boost Science Education

BOULDER, COLORADO -- A Nobel laureate renowned for his leadership in science education is joining The University of British Columbia.

Prof. Carl E. Wieman, 55, was awarded the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physics and named United States Professor of the Year in 2004. At the University of Colorado (CU) he is the only faculty member to hold both the highest research (Distinguished Professor) and teaching (Presidential Teaching Scholar) awards.

Wieman will be only the second Nobel laureate working at a Canadian university (John C. Polyani is at the University of Toronto).

UBC has committed $12 million over the next five years to provide an unprecedented quality of education for science students.

"I am joining UBC because I am excited to be a part of this initiative and hope that my expertise can help realize it," Wieman says.

"This is truly a tremendous gain for students at UBC and beyond," says UBC President Martha Piper. "Not only is Prof. Wieman a scholar of the highest calibre, he is widely recognized as a tireless champion for higher education. His leadership at UBC, coupled with ongoing collaboration with CU and other institutions, will propel us forward in this crucial area to the benefit of students around the world."

Wieman advocates an evidence-based approach to science education and suggests that similar approaches will be helpful in other educational areas. In testimony March 15 before the US House of Representatives, he said,

"... enough is known about how college students learn science and how to measure and achieve that learning so that undergraduate science education can be dramatically improved for all students. However that is not going to happen until colleges, particularly the large research universities, have incentives to make the investment required to bring about this change."

New resources for the initiative will come from UBC's fundraising efforts, says UBC Vice-President, Academic and Provost, Lorne Whitehead.

"This is a pivotal investment in the future of all education," Whitehead says. "The project supports UBC’s Trek 2010 strategic plan by providing our students with the best possible educational experience. Although this pilot project focuses mainly on science, it also includes immediate efforts to build support in other areas of education.

"To have a world-class researcher engaging not only undergraduate and graduate students but also helping provide instructional tools to our faculty is nothing less than remarkable."

"Existing initiatives at UBC provide an excellent foundation for further improving how science is taught and perceived by both science and non-science students," says Wieman, who will maintain ties with CU while being based in Vancouver.

He cited UBC programs such as the Centre for Teaching and Academic Growth, the Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund, the Institute for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, the Student Horizons in Education project and the Science Centre for Learning and Teaching.

"UBC is a natural partner for CU, with its strengths in science and its commitment to science education reform," says Susan Avery, CU's Executive Vice-Chancellor and Provost.

"We are sad to see Carl go but also delighted that we will be able to leverage resources, build an international partnership in the sciences, and develop tools, strategies, and assessments for enhancing undergraduate science education."

Born in Corvallis, Oregon, Wieman received a Bachelor of Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a PhD from Stanford University in California. He worked briefly at the University of Michigan before joining CU in 1984.

Although officially joining UBC's Dept. of Physics and Astronomy in January 2007, Wieman will immediately begin developing a science education project at UBC that emphasizes student experience, stimulates inquiry and encourages measurement of educational outcomes. Five Faculty of Science departments will participate in the project's initial stage. Select courses will be re-designed and launched in Sept. 2007.

A backgrounder on Dr. Wieman and UBC's Nobel linkages is also available.

The following resources for editors and reporters are available at www.ubc.ca/announce:

  • High-resolution photos
  • B-roll
  • Video and audio of Dr. Wieman's lecture at UBC on Nov. 21, 2005 -- "Science Education in the 21st Century: Using the Tools of Science to Teach Science"
  • a link to Dr. Wieman’s March 15, 2006 testimony to the US House of Representatives Science Committee

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Contact

Scott Macrae
UBC Public Affairs
Cell: 604.764.7508
E-mail: scott.macrae@ubc.ca

Brian Lin
UBC Public Affairs
Cell: 604.818.5685
E-mail: brian.lin@ubc.ca

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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