CU labs: a magnificent microcosm October 2012

Dear Friends and Alumni,

President Bruce Benson
President Bruce Benson

I went on a tour recently that I wish every Coloradan and friend of the university could have taken. Eric Cornell, one of CU's four Nobel laureates, led a group through JILA on our Boulder campus. JILA, a collaboration between CU and the federal National Institute of Standards and Technology, celebrated its 50th anniversary recently and has moved much of its operations to new laboratory and classroom space. The institute fosters collaboration among some of our top scientists and students on a variety of innovative research.

The reason I wish so many could have joined us is that in a short hour, we saw a microcosm of important science and research work that happens every day on every CU campus, as well as the value the university brings to our state and nation. That work has a significant impact on our students and advances knowledge to the benefit of the scientific community and society.

This isn't to say science is all we do at CU. Our renowned humanities programs provide a classical education that is the foundation for an educated person. Professional schools such as law, medicine, engineering and business prepare professionals who become integral to our state and beyond.

Yet it was hard not to get excited touring JILA. The enthusiasm and passion among our scientists and students was infectious. I got separated from our tour group because the conversations with faculty and students were too interesting to leave.

We saw students slowing down molecules so they could better understand their properties. I also heard about how in addition to their research, students disassembled and reassembled the laboratory and its complex equipment for the move, which seemed to me almost as impressive as the research.

We learned a bit about Cornell's work with the Bose Einstein condensate, the discovery of which led to the Nobel Prize for Cornell and colleague Carl Wieman and informs our understanding of the fundamental principles governing the physical world. We saw MacArthur "Genius" Award-winning professor Margaret Murnane's lab where students conducted research with some of the most advanced lasers in the world. Murnane's JILA colleague Deborah Jin is also a MacArthur Award winner, as is our most recent winner, Eric Coleman of the CU Anschutz Medical Campus (see below).

I talked with Murnane about the company she and her husband had founded to commercialize their work with lasers. Some 20 years ago, she said, many in industry wondered aloud whether there was any value in laser research. Today, they're indispensable in everything from nanoscience to manufacturing, and Murnane has keen insight about the intersection of scientific research and the business world.

Boulder and Colorado's Front Range are home to many companies that have grown out of CU research or have a direct connection to our work. Some 52 companies were formed in the past five years based on CU research. We are a key contributor in many important economic sectors, including biotechnology, aerospace, energy and health care. The partnerships we form drive a healthy economy and students like those we met at JILA become the highly skilled workforce those companies need.

Labs like JILA across CU campuses foster discovery and innovation, in addition to preparing the human infrastructure necessary for a healthy economy. Students get the chance to work alongside some of the top scientists in the world. And Colorado and the nation are better places because of their efforts.

For feedback, contact

Bruce D. Benson
Bruce Benson

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