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Charles H. Holbrow Named 2012 Oersted Medal Recipient


College Park, MD, October 5, 2011—For more than forty years Charles H. Holbrow has made significant and innovative contributions to physics education and physics research. The Oersted Medal, presented by the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), recognizes these contributions by naming him as the 2012 recipient of this prestigious Medal.

The Oersted Medal will be presented to Dr. Holbrow at a Ceremonial Session of the AAPT Winter Meeting at the Ontario Convention Center in Ontario, California, on Monday, February 6, 2012. Following the presentation, Dr. Holbrow will deliver an address titled, "Making Physics Make Sense – Narratives, Content, Witz."

"Dr. Holbrow’s career exemplifies the outstanding, widespread, and lasting impact on the teaching of physics for which the Oersted Medal was created. We are honored to recognize his contributions to AAPT and to physics education," stated Beth Cunningham, AAPT’s Executive Officer.

Holbrow earned his B.A. in History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 1955.  Following the addition of an A.M. in History and a Certificate of the Russian Institute from Columbia University he returned to the University of Wisconsin where he earned his M.S. (1960) and Ph.D. (1963) in Physics.

While working on his Ph.D. Holbrow worked as a Research Assistant for the Midwestern Universities Research Association and as a Research Assistant at the University of Wisconsin. From 1962-65 he was Assistant Professor at Haverford College, and then Research Associate at the University of Pennsylvania.

After a short time as Associate Editor at Physics Today in New York City, he took a position as Associate Professor at Colgate University.  During his first years there, he taught physics and was Associate Director of the Colgate Computer Center (1968) and Director (1972).  He was also Chairman of the Department of Physics and Astronomy (1970-72), and Director of Institutional Research in 1972.  He spent 1972-73 at Stanford University as an ACE Academic Administration Intern Fellow. Colgate promoted him to full Professor in 1975 and named him Charles A. Dana Professor of Physics in 1986.  He directed Colgate’s Division of Mathematics and Natural Sciences from 1985 to 1988.

He has been Visiting Professor of Physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cornell University, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  He has been Visiting Physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory, Visiting Scientist at SRI International, Molecular Physics Laboratory, Guest Scientist at SUNY Stony Brook, Department of Physics, Visiting Associate in Physics at California Institute of Technology, Guest Scientist at Gesellschaft für Schwerionen Forschung in Darmstadt, Germany, and Gast Professor at the University of Vienna, Austria.

Holbrow has been an active participant in physics education, serving as a member of the Steering Committee of "The Research Physicist in Undergraduate Curriculum Development: A Joint Program of the American Physical Society and the American Association of Physics Teachers." He has also been a member of the APS Forum on the History of Physics program committee, of the APS Committee on Education, of the Board of Directors of the American Institute of Physics, of AIP’s Liaison and Advisory Committee on Public Policy, and of the Physics Today advisory committee.

He has served AAPT as President, Senior Staff Physicist, and Executive Officer.  He has been editor of the New Problems section of the American Journal of Physics.  He is currently a member of AAPT’s Finance Committee.  He is also Co-chair of the 2012 Gordon Research Conference -- Physics Research and Education: “Astronomy’s Discoveries and Physics Education.” 

Harvard University has recognized him for excellence in teaching during the academic year 2006-2007.  In 2009 AAPT presented him with the Distinguished Service Citation in recognition of his contributions as a physics teacher, textbook author, nuclear physics researcher, and physics historian as well as his service as Associate Editor of Physics Today, AAPT President, AAPT Senior Staff Physicist, and AAPT Executive Officer.

Regarding the award, Holbrow stated, "I am deeply honored to be chosen to receive AAPT’s Oersted Medal. It is an honor that is uplifting and humbling at the same time. The medal recognizes many years of effort to bring new content and flexibility to physics instruction  – an effort motivated by my enduring love of the scope, richness, and intellectual power of physics. And it is humbling to realize how many people and organizations contributed to this effort. Special thanks go to my physics and astronomy colleagues at Colgate University, and to the National Science Foundation, and to the AAPT, whose meetings, journals, and fellow members have inspired, informed, and helped us advance our work."

About the Award
The Oersted Medal is named for Hans Christian Oersted (1777-1851), a Danish physicist who, in the course of creating a demonstration for teaching his class, discovered that electric currents caused a magnetic field. This was a crucial step in establishing the theory of electromagnetism so important in building modern technology and modern physics. The award was established by AAPT in 1936 and is given annually to a person who has had outstanding, widespread, and lasting impact on the teaching of physics.

Some previous Oersted awardees are F. James Rutherford, George F. Smoot, Mildred S. Dresselhaus, Carl Wieman, Lillian McDermott, Hans Bethe, Edward Purcell, and Richard Feynman. The complete list of recipients can be found at http://www.aapt.org/Programs/awards/oersted.cfm.

About AAPT
AAPT is the premier national organization and authority on physics and physical science education—with more than 10,000 members worldwide. Our mission is to advance the greater good through physics teaching. We provide our members with many opportunities for professional development, communication, and student enrichment. We serve the larger community through a variety of programs and publications. AAPT was founded in 1930 and is headquartered in the American Center for Physics in College Park, Maryland.

For more information contact Marilyn Gardner, Director of Communications, mgardner@aapt.org, (301) 209-3306, (301) 209-0845 (Fax), www.aapt.org.