CU Nobel Laureate Carl Wieman's Physics Education Web Site Wins International Online Award

September 27, 2007

A physics education Web site launched by Nobel laureate Carl Wieman, distinguished professor of physics at the University of Colorado at Boulder, has won first place in an international contest held by the National Science Foundation and the journal Science.

The Physics Education Technology Project, or PhET, was honored in the fifth annual International Science and Technology Visualization Challenge in the category of interactive media. More than 200 contest entries were received from 23 countries on six continents.

The PhET Web site offers more than 60 free interactive simulations allowing users to explore physics concepts and their connections to phenomena in everyday life. PhET's "virtual" physics experiments can be used to explore such things as what happens as electricity flows through wires and light bulbs, how the greenhouse effect in the atmosphere warms the Earth, what happens in a microwave oven and how a laser works.

The contest is aimed at highlighting the importance of visual images in communicating science to the public. Winning entries will appear on the NSF Web site at www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/scivis/, in the Sept. 28 issue of Science, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and on the AAAS Web site at www.sciencemag.org/sciext/vis2007/.

Wieman, director of PhET, launched the project in 2002 using $250,000 of the money he received for winning the 2001 Nobel Prize in physics together with a comparable amount from an NSF Distinguished Teaching Scholar award and CU-Boulder.

PhET has become extremely popular among high school and college physics teachers and students, said physics Assistant Professor Kathy Perkins, associate director of PhET. More than 2 million simulations were run on the PhET Web site between January and July of this year and many more simulations were run offline because PhET allows users to copy the entire Web site onto their own computers for offline use.

In addition to Wieman and Perkins, the PhET team includes Wendy Adams, Sam Reid, Mike Dubson, Ron LeMaster, John De Goes, Chris Malley, Noah Finkelstein, Sarah McKagan, Linda Koch, Patricia Loeblein, Chris Keller, Mindy Gratny, Alex Adams, Danielle Harlow, Noah Podolefsky, Angie Jardine, Krista Beck and Linda Wellmann. Team members are CU-Boulder physics faculty members, postdoctoral researchers, graduate students, software engineers, PhET employees and a high school teacher.

"This is great recognition for the tremendous efforts of Kathy and the many other extraordinary members of the PhET team who have carried this project far beyond what I ever imagined," Wieman said.

Starting in January of this year, Wieman began a 20 percent appointment at CU-Boulder to head the Science Education Initiative, and an 80 percent appointment at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, where he is a physics professor and also heads a science education project. CU-Boulder's Science Education Initiative works collaboratively with the UBC project.

PhET has been supported by the Hewlett Foundation, NSF, CU-Boulder and the Kavli Foundation.

To access PhET go to phet.colorado.edu.

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