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Sources: M. Duane Nellis, 785-532-6224; Chris Sorensen, 785-532-1626,
Photo available. Contact, phone 785-532-6415
News release prepared by: Cheryl May, 785-532-6415,

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


MANHATTAN -- University Distinguished Professor of Physics Chris Sorensen is Kansas State University’s newest Cortelyou-Rust Distinguished Professor. His appointment to this professorship is effective July 1. The appointment was announced today by K-State Provost and Senior Vice President M. Duane Nellis.

The Cortelyou-Rust Distinguished Professorship was established in 1991 and the original holder of the position was physicist Pat Richard, who retired last year.

“We have decided to continue to use the Cortelyou-Rust endowment to reward a distinguished faculty member at Kansas State University,” Nellis said. "Dr. Sorensen is a worthy recipient of this award and will receive both the title 'Cortelyou-Rust Distinguished Professor' and a $10,000 salary enhancement per year for serving in this role."

"I've served on a lot of awards committees recently and have seen firsthand the amazingly high quality and diversity of abilities of our faculty across our campus," Sorensen said. "So the only way I rationalize why I have received this award is largely through good fortune."

Qualifications for the Cortelyou-Rust Distinguished Professorship recognition include the nominee is recognized as having made a major and substantial impact on their field and continues to do so; that this excellence has been noted in important ways, such as major honors from professional societies; selection as a Distinguished Graduate Faculty recipient or Distinguished Teaching Scholar, or other equivalent honors.

A committee made up of a selected group of University Distinguished Professors reviewed nominations and recommended Sorensen to the provost for the professorship.

Steve White, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Dean Zollman, department head, also endorsed Sorensen's nomination, as did three eminent scholars from outside K-State.

"Chris Sorensen is an outstanding researcher and a remarkable teacher," White said. "Professor Sorensen is greatly admired by his students and faculty colleagues. He has a stellar career and we have run out of awards to give him."

"Dr. Sorensen is an internationally known research physicist," Zollman said. "He has been a pioneer in investigating the properties of condensed matter and some of his investigations of soot formation in flames have been critical in the development of new knowledge in this area. In addition to his fundamental research Dr. Sorensen is a scholar of teaching. His efforts in developing new teaching methods have focused on all types of science courses. Each of these endeavors has been a significant departure from traditional teaching."

He believes that learning should be placed in students’ hands, literally. In one of 130 lab demonstrations he created for a New Studio engineering physics course, students jump off tables holding cups of water to experience a moment of zero gravity.

Sorensen designed the course to engage students and make physics come alive and developed a similar approach for teaching applied optics. In teaching Physics 101, Sorensen replaces standard textbook content with readings from the original work of great scientific minds such as Galileo, Newton and Einstein.

He has received numerous honors for his teaching and was named the 2007 national Outstanding Doctoral and Research Universities Professor of the Year in 2007 by the CASE/Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. He also co-created and teaches a summer experimental science and engineering workshop for teenage girls and supervises high school student research.

He has had more than 230 articles published on topics including aerosols, light scattering, nanomaterials, water and aqueous solutions, phase transitions and critical phenomena and combustion physics. He has received numerous research grants and holds six patents.

As a K-State presidential lecturer, he speaks at about five high schools per year about science. Sorensen is a member of many professional societies, including the American Physical Society, the American Chemical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Among additional honors he has received are Phi Beta Kappa, Woodrow Wilson Fellow, Stamey Teaching Award (twice), Commerce Bank Undergraduate Teaching Award, Commerce Bank Distinguished Graduate Faculty Member Award, University Distinguished Professor, the Presidential Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching and David Sinclair Award of the American Association for Aerosol Research. In 2008, he won a Higuchi-KU Endowment Research Achievement Award from the University of Kansas. In 2007, Sorensen was K-State's Coffman Chair for Distinguished Teaching Scholars. He also was recognized by the University of Colorado as George Norlin Distinguished Alumnus.

Sorensen, also an adjunct professor of chemistry, began teaching physics at K-State in 1977. He is a native of Omaha, Neb., and received a bachelor's degree in physics at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln in 1969. Sorensen was drafted into the army for two years and served in Vietnam. He returned to school to receive master's and doctorate degrees in physics from the University of Colorado.