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The Future of the Research University

Kenneth Wilson was born in 1936 in Waltham, Massachusetts, the son of a distinguished chemist who taught at Harvard University. Wilson was an undergraduate at Harvard College, and obtained his doctorate in 1961 at the California Institute of Technology, where he was a student of Murray Gell-Mann. He was then a junior fellow in Harvard's Society of Fellows, and joined Cornell University's department of physics in 1963. He held a professorship there beginning in 1970. Wilson became the director of the Center for Theory and Simulation in Science and Engineering in 1985. In 1988 he moved to The Ohio State University's department of physics. He is now heavily engaged in educational reform as a co-principal investigator on Ohio's Project Discovery.

The ultimate recognition of his achievements in physics was the Nobel Prize in physics, awarded for discoveries he made in understanding how bulk matter undergoes "phase transition," i.e., sudden and profound structural changes resulting from variations in environmental conditions.

After Kenneth Wilson won the Nobel Prize for solving some of the major problems of modern physics, he took on an even more daunting task: reforming education in America. In his recent book Redesigning Education (1994), Wilson has challenged many of the assumptions about educational reform, arguing against repairing the dilapidated structure of traditional schooling and in favor of a new vision of what it means to educate and be educated in a post-industrial society. Adherence to traditional icons of scholastic excellence will not suffice to enable students to confront the problem-solving demanded in the information age. Wilson has been praised widely for his bold and innovative proposals based on his insights into the process of scientific achievement.

Wilson's background prior to educational reform ranges from elementary particle theory and condensed matter physics (critical phenomena and the Kondo problem) to quantum chemistry and computer science, where he is coinventor of a new programming style called Gibbs, still under development.

Wilson's style of lecturing has become widely known for being as provocative as his ideas. Please join us for what promises to be a challenging presentation on the future of higher education and the research university.