Published: March 19, 2006

Carl Wieman, CU-Boulder distinguished professor and Nobel laureate, announced today he will leave his faculty position at the University of Colorado at Boulder in January 2007 for a position at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

Wieman made the announcement today at a news conference on the CU-Boulder campus with Interim Provost Susan Avery and UBC Provost Lorne Whitehead. Under the terms of his agreement with UBC, Wieman will retain a 20 percent appointment at CU-Boulder to head up the Science Education Project.

Wieman's new faculty position at British Columbia will include funding for a $12 million science education project similar to the one at CU-Boulder that Wieman has been in the process of establishing with $5 million over five years from Interim Chancellor Phil DiStefano's office and the office of CU President Hank Brown. Assistant Professor Katherine Perkins of the CU-Boulder physics department will officially take over the day-to-day direction of the CU Science Education Project. She has worked closely with Wieman on establishing the project.

Wieman will be a professor of physics at the University of British Columbia in addition to his position in charge of the British Columbia science education project. CU-Boulder's Science Education Project will work collaboratively with the UBC project.

Susan Avery, interim provost at CU-Boulder, said she was "deeply disappointed" that Wieman will be leaving CU-Boulder but added that the university is committed to improving science education on campus through the work of the Science Education Project. Avery said she believes that through the guidance of professors Wieman and Perkins, and the strength of CU faculty support, substantial strides will be made. The project was officially launched this semester.

"The University of Colorado has benefited immensely from Carl's commitment to excellence, not only through his groundbreaking research and collaboration with JILA fellow and colleague Eric Cornell, but also through his exceptional analysis of teaching," Avery said. "Professor Wieman has forged new ground in teaching by stirring things up, just as he has done in atomic physics.

"He has not been satisfied to lecture, test, and conduct his classes in the usual way, which is often stifling for students, and he has made physics classes more interactive and exciting. We will greatly miss his daily presence, but we look forward to a new era of collaboration with the University of British Columbia, which Carl's move will help to create," Avery said.

Wieman said several considerations went into his decision to leave CU-Boulder but the primary reason was the realization that securing private support and public grants to support a major science education initiative at CU-Boulder might not be feasible.

"I have been seriously attempting to raise money to carry out this science education effort ever since the Nobel Prize (in 2001)," Wieman said. "While on sabbatical last year I prepared about 34 proposals for support directed to private individuals and foundations, mostly in Colorado, and to state and federal funding agencies," he said. None of the proposals were awarded.

Although Wieman has raised some funding for his science education effort -- $150,000 from the National Science Foundation through the physics department, $200,000 from the Hewlett Foundation and about $350,000 from NSF through the shared JILA award -- the level of support is not enough to fund training and salaries for senior teaching fellows who are a critical component of Wieman's program for improving science education.

A significant portion of the funding for Wieman's Physics Education Technology Fund, which supports his science education efforts, came from his own $300,000 National Science Foundation award, which he received in 2001 for excellence in teaching and research. He later contributed $250,000 of his Nobel Prize award to the Physics Education Technology Fund supporting classroom initiatives at CU-Boulder.

Wieman estimates that 60 percent of the budget for the Science Education Project will be needed to cover salaries for one or two senior teaching fellows in each participating department. CU-Boulder so far has four academic departments committed to working with the project to revise their teaching programs beginning in fall 2006.

But by maintaining the Science Education Project at CU-Boulder, which Wieman will continue to direct, Wieman said he believes the link with Vancouver will actually benefit CU-Boulder and help make the CU effort stronger.

"The activities at the University of British Columbia, which will be a larger operation, will benefit Colorado and will be incorporated into the teaching here," Wieman said. "This will be a new collaboration with additional money and more study from another institution that will help strengthen what we're doing at CU-Boulder."

Wieman will remain a distinguished professor on the CU-Boulder faculty after January 2007, though his role will be primarily as director of the project. He plans to retain his U.S. citizenship.

Wieman, 54, has taught undergraduate and graduate students at CU-Boulder since 1984. He is one of only 26 faculty members who have held the title of distinguished professor on the CU-Boulder campus, is a President's Teaching Scholar, holds a Marsico Endowed Chair of Excellence and is a fellow and former chairman of JILA, a joint institute of CU-Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Wieman, who shared the 2001 Nobel Prize in physics for creating a new form of matter in 1995 called Bose-Einstein condensate, has frequently taught a large undergraduate physics class on "The Physics of Everyday Life." Many of his students were CU-Boulder freshmen and nonscience majors.

In 2004, Wieman was named Professor of the Year among all doctoral and research universities in the United States by The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

Wieman is the chair, and will remain chair, of the National Research Council's Board on Science Education, which is examining U.S. science education at all levels from kindergarten to graduate school. He was selected for the post from among the 2,000 members of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, which advises the government on scientific issues.

For many years, Wieman has been a leader in using technology to improve science education. His classes make use of computer simulations used to conduct "virtual" physics experiments, infrared transmitter "clickers" that provide immediate feedback on how well students are understanding classroom lectures, and other innovations.

In 2001, Wieman was one of the first seven scientists and engineers in the United States to receive the National Science Foundation's Director's Awards for Distinguished Teaching Scholars. The award is NSF's "highest honor for excellence in both teaching and research." Each recipient received $300,000 to continue sharing their teaching talents and research excellence with students at all levels and with the public at large.