Wesley E. Brittin
Chemical Engineering
Education

During his 33-year career on the CU faculty, Wesley Brittin was not only a successful physicist, educator, and academic administrator, but also an exceptional lobbyist and fund-raiser for the University. "His greatest contribution to the University and to the Department of Physics," says William O'Sullivan, chair of the department, "was his role in the successful effort to capture the large sums of money required to build the Duane Physics Laboratories."

Raised in Audubon, New Jersey, during the Depression, Wesley took night courses at Temple University in 1938 and worked as an assistant chemist at a small engineering company. While there, he acquired a patent -- for all of $ 10 -- on an anion exchange process for water treatment.

Wesley realized that his full-time work meant his degree would take a long time. He came out west, fell in love with Boulder, and landed a job in one of the College's chemical engineering labs. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering in 1941 and a master's in physics in 1945.

A physics instructor at the College, Wesley won a research fellowship to study at Princeton with Eugene Wigner, a Nobel Prize winner for physics. He returned to the College in 1948 to become assistant professor of physics. He began work on a doctoral thesis on the ionization of gases under CU professor Sydney Chapman, who at the time was at the University of Alaska and preeminent in that field. After receiving his Ph.D., he returned to Boulder and was soon appointed professor and later elected chair of the Physics Department.

Wesley was reelected chair every two years from 1958 until 1974. During that time, the Physics Department grew from a small academic unit with little research activity into a large and vital department. He was responsible for establishing the Theoretical Physics Summer Institute which, says O'Sullivan, made Boulder an important center for theoretical physics during the 1960s and early 1970s.

By assembling a team of University faculty and administrators and winning the support of both local and national legislators, Wesley spearheaded a proposal to the National Science Foundation that resulted in attracting the majority of the funds needed to build Duane Physics and a designation as an NSF Center for Excellence.

Before retiring in 1977, Wesley published numerous papers and served on several boards and councils, including the Governor's Scientific Advisory Council. Retirement has offered him more time for research, which lately has been focused on the quantum theory of measurement.

He and his wife Janine, who graduated with a degree in philosophy from CU, spend time with their five children, Bonnie, Philip, Alexander, Anne, and Elizabeth (the latter four are CU graduates), three grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

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