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Proposed monument would honor Boulder's Nobel Prize winners [Daily Camera, Boulder, Colo. :: ]
[March 25, 2014]

Proposed monument would honor Boulder's Nobel Prize winners [Daily Camera, Boulder, Colo. :: ]

(Daily Camera (Boulder, CO) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) March 25--CORRECTION -- In listing Boulder's Nobel Prize winners, this story incorrectly included NIST's William D. Phillips, who won in 1997, but was not based at the agency's Boulder lab. The photo caption also misidentified Eric Cornell. Paul Komor should have been included in the list of scientists who contributed to the International Panel on Climate Change.

A retired Boulder physicist wants to build a monument honoring the city's many Nobel laureates.

A statue outside Folsom Field honors Frank Shorter, the long-distance runner who founded the Bolder Boulder. A statue at the old Boulder County Courthouse recognizes the miners who helped found the city, while a bust of Chief Niwot recalls the original settlers of this land.

But there is no prominent marker recognizing the people whose achievements are more characteristic of modern Boulder, with its world-class research university and its many federal labs.

"I see this as the natural extension of those things and something that opens the public's eyes that this is something other than a sports town," said Don McDonald, who worked for many years doing research on superconductivity at the National Institute for Standards and Technology, the same institute that is home to David Wineland, the most recent Boulder scientist to win a Nobel Prize.

McDonald said he woke up with idea for a public art project that recognizes the city's Nobel laureates -- ideally in a prominent location on the Pearl Street Mall -- at 5 a.m. one morning last year, and since then he has been talking to university officials, representatives of the federal labs, city leaders and downtown business owners to try to find support for the idea.

It's been an uphill battle. Lots of people seem to like the concept of a monument, but he hasn't been able to secure institutional backing.

"The good news is I have never spoken to anyone who is opposed to the idea," he said.

Boulder has five individual Nobel laureates: Wineland, who won in 2012 with French scientist Serge Haroche for work in quantum entanglement and quantum computing John (Jan) L. Hall of NIST and the University of Colorado's JILA, who won in 2005 for his contributions to the development of laser-based precision spectroscopy, including the optical frequency comb technique Carl E. Wieman of CU and Eric A. Cornell of NIST, who won in 2001 for creating a new form of matter called Bose-Einstein condensate, which may lead to the creation of precise measuring devices and lasers that could dispense beams of atoms for micro-assembly purposes Tom R. Cech of CU, who won in 1989 for his discovery that RNA in living cells is not only a molecule of heredity but also can function as a biocatalyst.

In addition, a dozen Boulder scientists contributed to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

They are: Susan Solomon, Martin Manning, Melinda Marquis, Kristen Averyt, Melinda Tignor, Roy Miller, Roger Pulwarty, David Fahey, Gerald Meehl, Kevin Trenberth, Elisabeth Holland, Paul Komor and Linda Mearns.

'A lot of complexity' McDonald estimates the monument could cost $500,000, but he's starting with a smaller fund-raising goal: $40,000 to fund a design competition for the monument.

Whenever he talks to potential donors, the main questions are, "What will it look like?" and, "Where will it be located?" McDonald wants to solicit applications from artists who work at the intersection of science and art. Two winners would then receive $20,000 to develop a more detailed proposal.

Getting permission to locate the monument on the Pearl Street Mall could be challenging, but not impossible.

Matt Chasansky, Boulder's arts and culture manager, said the city is operating under an interim public art policy, and a new permanent policy, being developed as part of the community cultural plan, could be in place by the time McDonald brings forward a specific design.

The current policy calls for two levels of review, first by a selection panel made up of stakeholders and residents, and then by the city's arts commission. The city manager makes the final decision based on the recommendations of those bodies.

"That simplicity belies a lot of complexity," Chasansky said.

The Pearl Street Mall has a lot more stakeholders than some other locations, and everyone from Boulder County government, which occupies the courthouse, to individual business owners to various city departments will want to weigh in.

"The idea of honoring those people in a public setting is an interesting one," Chasanksy said. "One of the things about the Pearl Street Mall is that it's a complex visual environment, and we would want to make sure that whatever we did complemented that environment rather than adding new complexity." 'Crown jewel of Boulder public art' McDonald said he hopes the final design is educational and an inspiration for young people who might decide to pursue a career in science. He envisions different video components on each scientist aimed at elementary and secondary school students that would also be designed through a competitive process.

"Who we're aiming for here is students, young people," he said. "We want to influence how they think." He also hopes it is beautiful.

"This will probably be the crown jewel of Boulder public art," he said. "That's the aim anyway. It shouldn't be hidden away where no one would see it." Contact Camera Staff Writer Erica Meltzer at 303-473-1355. or

___ (c)2014 the Daily Camera (Boulder, Colo.) Visit the Daily Camera (Boulder, Colo.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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