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It’s Noble to be Nobel


From a purely statistical point of view, it’s not surprising that Boulder rakes in a lot of scientific accolades and awards. One in 25 adults (older than 25) has a Ph.D in something and a whopping 53 percent of its residents have at least a bachelor’s.

Your local barista is probably also a doctor of something.

And as the Pulitzer Prize is to journalists or the Oscar to actors, Nobel Prizes are the pinnacle of achievement in the world of nerds. And the more than $1 million in prize money doesn’t stink, either.

University of Colorado professor Thomas R. Cech put Boulder on the Nobel map in 1989 when he shared the chemistry prize with Sidney Altman for discovering the catalytic properties of ribonucleic acid in genes.

Twelve years later, Eric A. Cornell and Carl E. Wieman—each fellows with CU —shared the Nobel in physics for physically creating Bose-Einstein condensate.

The list goes on: John L. “Jan” Hall was one of three recipients of the physics prize for his work developing laser-based precision spectroscopy and perfecting the correlation of optically measured intervals using lasers to the more easily measured electronic intervals. The latter technology has enabled timekeepers to improve their measurement of seconds to parts per quadrillion (that’s a 1 followed by 15 zeros).

Not so important for setting your watch, but critical when deciding when to fire rockets in preparation for landing something. And just last year, 14 primary authors and literally dozens of additional researchers based in Boulder and working with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore.

Some of the science being done in and around Boulder would make Captain Kirk’s head explode. It sure made mine.

Here are a handful of people and their projects that you should keep an eye out for when the 2008 Nobel

Prizes are announced during the first week of October. And if not this year, then maybe next.

David Wineland, a National Institute physicist, is working on a quantum computer that uses the trapped ions of electrically charged atoms—which behave as if they are in two places at once—to store and process data (the 1s and 0s that make your PlayStation go). The amount of information that can be processed using this technology is immense; it would take mere seconds to solve problems that today’s fastest super computer would require years to do.

Norman Pace, a CU professor in the molecular, cellular and developmental biology department, has developed a process using molecular genetic information to quickly detect, identify and classify microbe species. He is also an expert in ribonucleic acids and extreme life in deep-sea thermal vents. His discoveries are the foundation upon which other microbial ecologists have built their own groundbreaking research.

Noel Clark, CU physics professor and founder of Displaytech Inc., has been recognized for his astounding work in ferroelectric liquid crystal applications, ultrathin freely suspended films and soft condensed matter. In addition to holding Humbold and Guggenheim senior fellowships, he was awarded the prestigious 2006 Oliver E. Buckley Condensed Matter Prize. (Handicappers note: 16 of the 72 Buckley recipients have gone on to win the Nobel.)

Kristie Anseth, CU professor in the chemical and biological engineering department, is doing research designing biomaterials for tissue engineering, drug delivery and biosensing. In short: growing bones, skin and cartilage; processes that will help treat Parkinson’s and diabetes, among others.

These are just a few of the bright lights shining in Boulder’s research labs. And just as a black hole reaches critical mass and begins pulling in all manner of matter from far and wide, our local brilliant minds are sure to continue attracting more of the same to this fertile research paradise.

And that doesn’t stink, either.

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