87th AMS Annual Meeting

Tuesday, 16 January 2007: 2:00 PM
From scientific Siberia to Astro-Boulder: the early development of Boulder, Colorado as a city of atmospheric knowledge
213A (Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center)
Joseph P. Bassi, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara, CA
In the amazingly short period of only two decades between 1945 and the mid-1960s, the small mountain and univeristy town of Boulder, Colorado went from having no particular claim as a center of scientific knowledge production to a world-renowned nexus of research in atmospheric and space sciences. How did this dramatic transformation occur?

This paper explores the early phases of this process, embedded as it is in the rapid restructuring of US science in the post-WW II era. Specifically, this is the story of how a small number of "scientific entrepreneurs," aided by both university adminstrators and businessmen in Boulder, tapped into the broader currents of US science policy of the era to make Boulder a center of atmospheric and space studies. In doing this, the paper reveals some of the complex, interactive and often misunderstood dynamic that existed between scientists, US science policy, national defense issues, and urban development of the period.

Boulder-based astronomer and atmospheric scientist Walter Orr Roberts (1915-1990), in particular, served as something of an intellectual and organizational "condensation nuclei" throughout this period. My work investigates both his role, and that of his mentor, Harvard astronomer Donald Menzel (1901-1976), in bringing the US National Bureau of Standards' Central Radio Propagation Laboratory to Boulder in the late 1940s and early 1950s. This was the first major step in the journey from "scientific Siberia" to "AstroBoulder" for the city.

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