Published: Nov. 11, 2021

CU Boulder’s Katherine K. Perkins and Valerie K. Otero cited for groundbreaking work to understand and improve science education

Two University of Colorado Boulder faculty members who work to improve science education have been designated as 2021 fellows by the American Physical Society (APS), the association has announced.


Katherine Perkins

The APS Fellowship Program recognizes members who have advanced the field of physics through research and publication or have made significant innovative contributions by application of physics to science and technology. Each year, no more than 0.5% of the APS’s non-student membership is recognized for election to the status of Fellow of the APS.

This year’s fellows are Professors Katherine K. Perkins of physics and Valerie K. Otero of education. 

Perkins is director of the PhET Interactive Simulations Project. The APS cited her for “profound contributions to physics education through the vision and leadership of the PhET project, resulting in the creation of many high-quality interactive simulations for teaching physics to hundreds of millions of students and teachers globally.”

Perkins, who is also a professor attendant rank in physics and specializes in physics education research, focuses on pedagogically effective design and use of interactive simulations, sustainable course reform, students' beliefs about science and institutional change. Formerly, she served as director of CU Boulder’s Science Education Initiative.

Perkins was trained as experimental physicist and atmospheric scientist at Harvard University, from which she earned her PhD in 2000. She joined the CU Boulder faculty in 2003, working as a postdoctoral researcher with Carl Wieman, who shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with Eric Cornell.


Valerie Otero

Otero is professor of science education and executive director of the Colorado Learning Assistant Program and the International Learning Assistant Alliance. The APS cited her for “the creation and broad dissemination of innovative physics curricular materials, pioneering contributions to physics teacher education and professional development, and for the development, implementation and wide dissemination of the Learning Assistant Model across diverse institutions.”

Otero, who co-founded the Learning Assistant model and International Learning Assistant Alliance, is also the co-founder and co-director of the CU Boulder Center for STEM Learning and the PEER Physics project, which engages high school students and teachers.

Her research explores the dynamic and inclusive nature of the learning environments, focusing on “cultivating expert learners rather than expert knowers,” whether these learners are K–12 or university faculty or students. Otero is a Hispanic, first-generation college student who grew up working at the carnival in New Mexico. She focuses her research and programs on learning environments that promote empowerment, agency and self-love through the disciplines.

Otero earned a master’s in geophysics from the University of California, San Diego, in 1995 and a PhD in mathematics and science education and physics education research from UCSD and San Diego State University in 2001. She joined the CU Boulder faculty in 2001. The APS is a nonprofit organization established in 1899 to expand and promote the understanding of physics through publication of scientific journals, organization of scientific meetings, education, public outreach, advocacy and government affairs and international activities. 

It has more than 55,000 members and publishes 14 physical review journals.