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Backgrounder | Mar. 20, 2006

Nobel Laureate Joins UBC to Boost Science Education

Carl Wieman: An Unorthodox Education

Nobel laureate Carl Wieman credits his own unorthodox education for inspiring him to become involved in science education reform.

Growing up in among the forests in Oregon, Wieman's parents made special arrangements with the public library in a nearby town where he was allowed to check out piles of books to "eagerly devour."

His interests in math and Physics kindled by a "young, idealistic" 7th-grade teacher, Wieman went on to become good friends with the son of an Oregon State University Math professor, who gave the 14-year-old boys daily tutorials.

Wieman admits that he didn't always do well in "normal" courses, but learned to seek answers independently while being mentored by professors and peers at informal seminars at MIT.

Even conversations with his wife Sarah Gilbert, also an accomplished physicist, have provided Wieman with "countless inspirations" and "revealed critical flaws."

The Einstein-Bose Condensate

Carl Wieman won the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physics with co-investigators Eric Cornell of the National Institute of Standards and Technology and Wolfgang Ketterle of MIT for creating world's first Bose-Einstein condensate on June 5, 1995.

The condensate is a form of matter predicted by Albert Einstein in 1924.

It allows scientists to study the world of quantum Physics as if they are looking through a giant magnifying glass. Its creation established a new branch of atomic Physics that has provided a treasure-trove of scientific discoveries.

Einstein had predicted that the condensate would occur when the wavelengths of individual atoms begin to overlap and behave in identical fashion, forming a "superatom," which occurs when laboratory apparatus is used to chill a group of atoms to just a few hundred billionths of a degree above absolute zero.

Carl Wieman: Teaching Awards

  • U.S. Professor of the Year, The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and Council for Advancement and Support of Education, 2004
  • University of Colorado Presidential Teaching Scholar, 2004
  • U.S. National Science Foundation Director’s Award for Distinguished Teaching Scholars, 2001
  • Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar, 1999-2000
  • Richtmyer Memorial Lecture Award from the American Association of Physics Teachers, 1996

Select Research Awards

  • Benjamin Franklin Medal in Physics, 1999-2000
  • Schawlow Prize for Laser Science, American Physical Society, 1999
  • Lorentz Medal, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1998
  • King Faisal International Prize for Science, 1997
  • Award for Science, Bonfils-Staanton Foundation, 1997
  • Fritz London Award in Low Temperature Physics, International Union of Pure and Applied Physics, 1996
  • Einstein Medal for Laser Science, Society for Optical and Quantum Electronics, 1995

Nobel and UBC

UBC Professor, the late Michael Smith won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1993 for his groundbreaking work in reprogramming segments of DNA.

UBC alumnus Robert A. Mundell won the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 1999 for his work in the comparative economics of fixed and flexible exchange rates. Mundell also received a UBC honorary degree in 2000.

UBC alumnus Bertram N. Brockhouse won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1994 for the development of neutron spectroscopy.

Hans G. Dehmelt, who won the 1989 Nobel Prize in Physics for the development of the ion trap technique, built his first electron impact tube in 1955 in the George Volkoffs laboratory at UBC.

H. Gobind Khorana, who won the 1968 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, conducted research at UBC from 1952 to 1960 through an appointment with the British Columbia Research Council.

Daniel Kahneman, who won the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, was a professor at UBC from 1978 to 1986.

Nobel Laureates who have received a UBC honorary degree:

  • In April 2004, UBC conferred honorary degrees on three Nobel Peace Prize winners, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Dr. Shirin Ebadi
  • Anthony J. Leggett, the 2003 Nobel Prize in Physics (2005)
  • Sydney Brenner, the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (2004)
  • Sir John Eccles, the 1963 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1966)

In 2001, UBC oceanography professor Timothy Parsons was the first Canadian to win the Japan Prize -- Japan's equivalent to the Nobel Prize.

In 2005, UBC fisheries professor Daniel Pauly was the first Canadian to receive the 40 million Yen International Cosmos Prize, awarded by the Expo '90 Foundation of Japan.

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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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


Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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