Ever wonder who used to walk the hallways at the University of Colorado? The famous people whose footsteps you might be walking in? Turns out, University of Colorado has a plethora of notable alumni, ranging from a number of Nobel laureates to NASA astronauts.
Norman Foster Ramsey was an American Physicist who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1989. Ramsey was a Physics Professor at Harvard most of his life, but spent a year after retirement as a research fellow at the University of Colorado at the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics. In 1943, he was approached by Robert Openheimer and Robert Bacher, who asked him to join the Manhattan Project—the research project that developed the first atomic bomb. He helped with the design of the bomb, and also helped with choosing the aircraft that would deliver it. Post-war years he worked on measuring the properties of atoms and molecules through the use of molecular beams. However, the accuracy of the molecular beams were not up to the standards he wanted, and he developed the separated oscillatory field in 1949, which achieved the accuracy he wanted. This led to the award of the Nobel Prize, forty years later, for “for the invention of the separated oscillatory fields method and its use in the hydrogen maser and other atomic clocks”. The hydrogen maser could measure the hyperfine separations of hydrogen, deuterium, and tritium. And the atomic clock set the standard for the measurement of a second.
Dr.Waleed Abdalati was the NASA Chief Scientist from 2011 to 2012. He completed his graduate studies at the University of Colorado, where he received a M.Sc. in 1991 from the Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences and a Ph.D. in 1996 from the Department of Geography. In his doctoral research, Abdalati developed an algorithm to remotely detect changes in the spatial extent of the Greenland ice sheet experiencing melt each year. In 2004 he won the NASA Group Achievement Award, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Exceptional Service Medal in the same year. Now, Abdalati is the Director of the Earth Science and Observation Center at the University of Colorado.
The University of Colorado also has such eccentric alumni as Trey Parker, the co-creator of South Park. He was born in Colorado and idolized Monty Python, the kind of absurd, unique humor that may have been original inspiration for the creation of South Park. He started making films in middle school and performed in many school plays. He was described in high school as a “film geek and music buff”. In 1993 Parker and his friends had their first big success, a musical titled Alferd Packer: The Musical which premiered in Boulder. It was later changed to Cannibal: the Musical! and toured around LA and became a cult classic. The pilot episode of South Park was made on a budget of $300,000 and took place in a studio in Denver, CO in 1996. The original pilot was animated entirely with traditional cut paper stop motion animation techniques, a technique Parker had employed in high school. The idea for the town of South Park came from the real Colorado basin of the same name where, according to the creators, a lot of folklore and news reports originated about “UFO sightings, and cattle mutilations, and Bigfoot sightings”. The show became on overnight success, making Comedy Central a giant of cable industry.
Much like Boulder and Colorado itself, the University produces some diverse, intelligent, and unique alumni who helped facilitate some of the biggest developments in science and art. Who knows what sort of eccentric and innovative projects future alumni will produce, I for one, will be looking forward to seeing it.