Physicist and Professor Albert Bartlett was responsible for instructing many thousands of Americans about the indisputable connection between population growth and resource use. His true genius was the ability to take wonky math facts and make them clear and even interesting regarding explosive human growth on earth.
Prof Bartlett practiced his signature speech a lot, giving his famous talk “Arithmetic, Population and Energy” 1,742 times, according to his website, AlBartlett.org. There’s nothing like a classroom full of quizzical looks to modify a presentation somewhat, and that’s what makes a great teacher. Below is the lecture/slide show about population posted online in 2011 which demonstrates his mastery of the teacher’s art.
The death means the loss of a remarkable man, but at least Prof Bartlett lived well into the YouTube age, so his wisdom and gentle demeanor are accessible to those who never saw him personally. An online video search brings up lots of interviews and discussions with the professor.
“The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.”
— Al Bartlett
The Denver Post wrote a decent article about his life:
Al Bartlett, who repeated lecture on population growth 1,742 times, has died, Denver Post, September 9, 2013
University of Colorado professor Al Bartlett, who delivered a lecture on world population growth at least 1,742 times during his lifetime, died Saturday in Boulder. He was 90.
Albert Allen Bartlett, was born March 21, 1923, in Shanghai, China.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in physics from Colgate University and graduate degrees in physics from Harvard. He began his teaching career at CU in 1950 after spending two years as an experimental physicist at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory in New Mexico as part of the Manhattan Project.
“Al Bartlett was a treasured friend, mentor, teacher, scholar and public servant. He was an influential leader in the Department of Physics, the university, the Boulder community and the global environmental movement,” physics department chairman Paul Beale said in a university news release Monday. “Generations of students were proud to have called him professor.”
He retired in 1988 but continued to teach CU students for years thereafter.
“Al Bartlett was a man of many legacies,” Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano said in the release. “His commitment to students was evidenced by the fact that he continued to teach for years after his retirement.”
A celebrated speaker on world population growth, Bartlett first delivered his lecture “Arithmetic, Population and Energy” to a group of CU students Sept. 19, 1969, when the world population was about 3.7 billion.
“The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function,” Bartlett famously said in his lecture.
He gave the talk, which drew a connection between population growth and energy consumption, another 1,741 times in 49 states and seven other countries to students, corporations and government agencies, the release said.
“His timeless, internationally revered lecture on the impacts of world population growth will live beyond his passing, a distinction few professors can claim,” DiStefano said in the release.
The world population is about 7.1 billion this year, according to the release.
The Boulder campus pledged this summer to celebrate Bartlett’s population-growth talk with at least three volunteer performances of the lecture in 2013-14. The lecture also has gained popularity on YouTube.
Bartlett was outspoken on the depletion of worldwide oil reserves. He frequently wrote letters to the editor and opinion pieces for local newspapers on scientific and civic issues.
In his 25 years on the Boulder Campus Planning Commission, Bartlett advocated for innovations as simple as 1-inch diameter chalk to ensure students could see what was being written on the classroom board and as complex as rotating stages in classrooms that allow scientific demonstrations to be used in one class and set up for the next simultaneously. He also helped design multiple buildings on campus including the Duane Physical Laboratories Complex.
In his decades as a Boulder resident, Bartlett worked to preserve open space and initiated the “Blue Line” charter amendment that restricted growth in the city’s foothills by limiting the elevation to which municipal water could be delivered.
Bartlett received the Daily Camera’s Pacesetter Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2006 and the American Association of Physics Teachers’ Robert A. Millikan Award and Melba Newell Phillips Award. He served as the association’s president in 1978.
Other awards he received include CU’s Boulder Faculty Assembly Excellence in Teaching Awards, Robert L. Stearns Award, Thomas Jefferson Award, University of Colorado Centennial Medallion, President’s University Service Award, University Heritage Center Award and the Presidential Citation.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Eleanor, and is survived by daughters Carol, Jane, Lois and Nancy.
A memorial service is to be held in Boulder in October.