Notable Oregonians: Carl E. Wieman - Physicist, Nobel Winner
Carl Edwin Wieman was born in Corvallis, Oregon on March 26, 1951 to Orr and Alison Wieman. His father worked in a sawmill and his mother was a social worker. He attended schools in nearby Kings Valley and Philomath and later enrolled in Highland View Middle School in Corvallis. One teacher remembered him as a "...serious kid who never got anything wrong." Wieman attended Corvallis High School, where he competed in chess tournaments and played on the tennis team before graduating in 1969. He later graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1973 with a B.S. and Stanford University in 1977 with a Ph.D.
Wieman started his career as an assistant professor of physics at the University of Michigan, where he taught for several years before accepting an associate professor appointment at the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1984. Three years later he earned the title of full professor.
His research at the University of Colorado led to a share of the 2001 Nobel Prize in physics with Eric Cornell of the National Institute of Standards and Technology and Wolfgang Ketterle of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The three physicists won the prize for the creation of Bose-Einstein condensate in 1995. The condensate, predicted in 1924 by Satyendranath Bose and Albert Einstein, is a new form of matter that occurs at just a few hundred billionths of a degree above the temperature of absolute zero (minus 459.67 degrees Fahrenheit). It is hoped that the achievement will result in the development of extremely precise microscopic computers and navigation devices. Wieman started working on the process in 1990 and eventually pioneered techniques to create the condensate. He and Cornell conducted their research together while Ketterle worked independently.
In addition to the Nobel Prize, Wieman has received numerous awards and honors for his research and teaching. The University of Colorado named him as a distinguished professor in 1997 and the University of Chicago awarded him an honorary doctorate of science the same year. In 2004 he was named U.S. Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education for his undergraduate teaching.
Wieman left his faculty position at the University of Colorado at Boulder in January 2007 for a position at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. The same year, the American Association of Physics Teachers awarded him the Oersted Medal in recognition of notable contributions to the teaching of physics. Wieman was confirmed as the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy Associate Director of Science in 2010.