CU nets top honors
By Matt Sebastian
Special to The Denver Post
BOULDER - The University of Colorado's graduate atomic and molecular physics program has been ranked first in the nation by U.S. News and World Report, surpassing such perennial powerhouses as Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Chancellor Roderic Park said he was "enormously pleased" with the news magazine's ranking of the graduate atomic and molecular physics program.
"We've sort of turned into a Cinderella with all the power and insight that we have here," Park said yesterday.
The ranking was based on a survey of the department heads and directors of graduate schools within specific academic disciplines, who rated the institutions based on reputation for scholarship, curriculum and quality of both faculty and graduate students. CU's overall graduate physics program was not ranked.
Park said the program probably earned the top spot for the work its members conducted on the Bose-Einstein condensation last summer.
"I think this probably speaks of the very remarkable work of Eric Cornell and Carl Wieman," Park said, referring to the two CU physicists who created a new state of matter that was first predicted by Albert Einstein nearly 70 years ago.
Wieman said he wasn't shocked by the fact that his department was ranked higher than similar programs at MIT, Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley.
"I've thought for years that we were better than them anyway," Wieman said. "For a school like Colorado, there's such a bias against us anyway. For us to be ranked above them means we have to be a lot better."
Wieman said the program's success was not solely due to the Bose-Einstein condensation.
"It's based on the combined efforts of everybody who works here," Wieman said. "We really do have a lot more very good people in this area than any other school."
Cornell said "most any atomic physicist would rank us in the top five." The molecular and atomic physics program has eight professors and 40 graduate students and a budget of just over $1 million.
The graduate school rankings appear in the March 18 issue of U.S. News and World Report, which hit newsstands Monday. CU's graduate programs earned 10 citations this year, up from seven in 1995.
The magazine ranked the CU Law School's environmental law program third in the nation, up from fourth place last year. The law school itself was ranked 39th.
Other rankings include the School of Journalism and Mass Communication's graduate advertising program, which placed 13th nationwide, and the graduate psychology program, which tied for 16th place with Johns Hopkins University and the University of Texas at Austin.
CU's graduate biology and chemistry programs were both tied for 20th place, while the School of Education was ranked 25th.
As for the impact of the atomic physics department's top ranking, Wieman said it may be too early to tell.
"It looks nice, but I'm not sure what real impact it will have for prospective students," he said. "Hopefully, it means something to the state legislature."
Park, who called Wieman and Cornell's work "a truly heroic intellectual achievement," said the program's newfound recognition is only the beginning for the two CU physicists.
"I believe that they are headed for even larger honors in the Nobel world," Park said.
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