From CU-Boulder News Release April 26, 2000
John Birks, a professor of chemistry at the University of Colorado Boulder and fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences has been selected to receive CU-Boulder’s highest recognition for teaching and research, the Hazel Barnes Prize.
Chancellor Richard L. Byyny announced that Birks will be recognized during summer commencement exercises on Aug. 12.
"There are always a number of very strong candidates for the Hazel Barnes Prize, but the committee developed a strong consensus in favor of awarding the prize to Professor John Birks this year," said Professor Michael Grant, who chaired the Hazel Barnes Prize award committee, and is a past recipient of the award."Professor Birks’ sustained excellence in combining his teaching and research really stands out; he is an extremely worthy recipient."
Birks, who joined the chemistry faculty as an associate professor in 1977, developed and taught CU’s first courses in environmental chemistry at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Environmental Chemistry 1 and 2, courses first introduced by Birks during the 1988-89 academic year, now enroll about 200 students per semester and are required of all environmental studies majors in the policy track.
His approach to teaching Environmental Chemistry was to outline chemistry in terms of environmental topics, which students were more apt to understand.
"John was convinced that environmental chemistry was important for everyone to know something about, regardless of their scientific background," said Carl Koval, chair of the chemistry department. "He proved that environmental chemistry could be taught successfully to undergraduates without requiring any chemistry prerequisites."
Birks is also a founding member of the Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, an interdisciplinary program that provides an educational and research environment to help students establish a physical basis for understanding climate and global change. He is also a member of the newly formed core faculty of the Environmental Studies Program, a popular program that now has more than 500 undergraduates majoring in it.
Birks’ work in atmospheric chemistry, especially the development of the "nuclear winter" theory with Paul Crutzen, a 1995 Nobel laureate, has earned him an international reputation as a creative and innovative scientist. In 1981, Birks collaborated with Crutzen on a new study of the environmental effects of nuclear warfare. Their calculations showed the amount of smoke produced by burning cities, oil refineries and vegetation would be sufficient to block as much as 99 percent of solar radiation from reaching the Earth’s surface, causing severe climatic impacts. In other research, Birks and his students were among the first to quantify several of the key chemical reactions that contribute to the Antarctic ozone hole.
More recently, Birks’ research group has focused on the development of battery-operated, lightweight instruments for profiling the atmosphere in real time using kites, balloons and light aircraft. For this work, miniaturized instruments were developed to measure ozone, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and nitric oxide. Birks and his students have also invented several detectors for a wide range of environmental pollutants, many of which are now widely used in environmental research laboratories.
Birks has received several awards for his research, including the Leo Szilard Award of the American Physical Society, the Witherspoon Peace and Justice Award of the national Presbyterian Church, Alfred P. Sloan and John Simon Guggenheim fellowships, CU’s Thomas Jefferson Award and the Colorado Section Award of the American Chemical Society.
Birks has published more than 120 scientific papers, edited three books and holds three U.S. patents for scientific instruments, with a fourth patent pending. He has supervised the research of 32 students earning doctorates and eight earning master’s degrees.
The $20,000 Hazel Barnes Prize is the largest single faculty award funded by the university. It was established in 1991 by former Chancellor James Corbridge in honor of philosophy Professor Emerita Hazel Barnes to recognize "the enriching interrelationship between teaching and research."