Iconic prof to live on in CU Sustainability Complex


Brian Daniell and his wife, Vicki Bynum, have stepped forward to make a major pledge toward CU-Boulder’s Sustainability, Energy, and Environment Complex. The commitment will establish the Albert A. Bartlett Science Communication Center.

By Maya Gurarie

Alarmed by melting glaciers and inspired by CU-Boulder scientists’ efforts to teach the public about mechanisms that drive environmental change, emeritus Department of Communication faculty member Brian Daniell and his wife, Vicki Bynum, have made a pledge of $500,000 toward the university’s Sustainability, Energy, and Environment Complex (SEEC).

The commitment, the largest so far in support of SEEC, will establish the Albert A. Bartlett Science Communication Center on the building’s second floor. The center will foster information exchange among students and scholars from CU, federal researchers and community members.

When completed in 2015, SEEC will consist of 430,000 square feet of research labs, classrooms and other academic spaces on East Campus. It is intended to be a catalyst and national hub for learning, research and innovation.

The clarity and power of this lecture, and the energy with which he gave it over a period of decades, made him a quintessential science communicator and the archetype for the kind of people that we hope the new center will develop and support.”

SEEC’s partners include CU programs and federal labs such as the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR), the Renewable & Sustainable Energy Institute (RASEI), the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and CU’s Environmental Studies Program.

Vicki Bynum chose the name to honor legendary CU physics professor Albert Bartlett, who worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory for the Manhattan Project in 1944 before his 38-year tenure on CU’s faculty.

He warned about the consequences of human overpopulation and the resulting depletion of resources and environmental degradation, giving his famed “Arithmetic, Population and Energy” lecture more than 1,700 times before he passed away last September.

“The clarity and power of this lecture, and the energy with which he gave it over a period of decades, made him a quintessential science communicator and the archetype for the kind of people that we hope the new center will develop and support,” Daniell said.

Bartlett was instrumental in establishing Boulder’s open space policies. As a CU donor, Bartlett inspired a scholarship for CU physics students who aspire to teach in high schools.

Professor Al Bartlett would end his lecture on population and the environment this way: “I hope you’ll take what I’ve said very, very seriously. You are important people—you can think. If there was ever a time when the human race needs people who will think, it’s right now and it’s our responsibility as citizens in a democracy to think.”

As a communication instructor, Daniell integrated sustainability issues into his lectures as he became increasingly concerned about climate change. In 2008, he created the Communication Project for Civic and Social Engagement (CASE), providing internship opportunities that enable CU-Boulder communication students to serve environmental-sustainability interests in their communities.

“That year I began to look for opportunities for students in my discipline to participate in and contribute to wider efforts to disseminate the threat of climate change to the general public,” Daniell said. “My original motivation in this effort was to explore partnerships with the scientific community.

“Vicki and I have done two trips to Antarctica, the first to South Georgia Island and the Antarctic Peninsula in 2008. In 2011, we spent a month on a Russian ice breaker in the Ross Sea. Last year we visited Finnmark in the Norwegian Arctic. Every time we go outside, whether on a hike in the foothills west of Boulder or to British Columbia, the Arctic or the Antarctic, we become more attuned to the fragility and the preciousness of our planet, its wildlife and wild places,” Daniell said.

Daniell’s teaching experience and travels to the Arctic sparked conversations with INSTAAR Director Jim White, the primary academic liaison for SEEC. Daniell envisions the complex of SEEC buildings, for which the effort to raise private support is intensifying, as a new way to learn—influenced as much by outside forces as by university leaders.

“Donations made toward SEEC today will be instrumental in creating a key facet of the university of the future,” Daniell said.

“Building a resilient future for us all is a major challenge for the coming decades,” White said. “It is our responsibility, as Colorado’s flagship university, to help search for solutions, train the problem-solvers of the future, and communicate what we know to the people of our state. That communication piece is so vital to forming a working partnership with Coloradans, and Vicki and Brian’s generous gift in Al Bartlett’s name is key to ensuring that the communication continues and improves.”

Shelly Sommer, INSTAAR’s information and outreach director, added: “We want everyone in SEEC to be able to share what they find with a broader public and be part of the conversation on sustainability. We need to not only be experts in our fields of interest, but also to listen and to speak to broader issues. The Bartlett Science Communication Center will help us learn to do that well.”

To learn more about the SEEC initiative, click here. To support SEEC, click here

March 2014

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