diversity in science (15)

Confession...

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Credit: Freddie Pagani for Physics Today

Topics: African Americans, Diversity in Science, Electrical Engineering, Materials Science, Physics

Students should strategically consider where to apply to graduate school, and faculty members should provide up-to-date job resources so that undergraduates can make informed career decisions.

The number of bachelor’s degrees in physics awarded annually at US institutions is at or near an all-time high—nearly double what it was two decades ago. Yet the number of first-year physics graduate students has grown much more slowly, at only around 1–2% per year. The difference in the growth rates of bachelor’s recipients and graduate spots may be increasing the competition that students face when interested in pursuing graduate study.

With potentially more students applying for a relatively fixed number of first-year graduate openings, students may need to apply to more schools, which would take more time and cost more money. As the graduate school admissions process becomes more competitive, applicants may need even more accomplishments and experiences, such as postbaccalaureate research, to gain acceptance. Such opportunities are not available equally to all students. To read about steps one department has taken to make admissions more equitable, see the July Physics Today article by one of us (Young), Kirsten Tollefson, and Marcos D. Caballero.

We do not view the increasing gap between bachelor’s recipients and graduate spots as necessarily a problem, nor do we believe that all physics majors should be expected to go to graduate school. Rather, we assert that this trend is one that both prospective applicants and those advising them should be aware of so students can make an informed decision about their postgraduation plans.

The “itch” for graduate school has always been a constant with me. I wanted especially to go after meeting Dr. Ronald McNair after his maiden voyage on Challenger in 1984. Little did I know that he would perish two years later in the same vehicle. Things happened to set the itch aside: marriage, kids, sports leagues. Life can delay your decision, too. My gap was 33 years: 1984 to 2017.

The recent decision by the Supreme Court to overturn another precedent: Affirmative Action in college admissions, affects graduate schools as well as undergraduate admissions. After every effort of progress, whether in race (a social construct) relations, labor, or gender, history, if they allow us to study it, has always shown a backlash. The group that is in power wants to remain in power, and the inequity those of us lower on the totem poll are pointing out they see as the result of the "natural order," albeit by government fiat.

My pastor at the time could have called our congressman and gotten me an appointment. My grades weren't too bad, and being the highest-ranking cadet in the city and county probably would have helped my CV. I chose an HBCU, NC A&T State University, in my undergrad because Greensboro to Winston-Salem was and is a lot closer than the Air Force Academy in Colorado. I would have been away from my parents for an entire agonizing year of no contact: cell phones and video chatting weren't a thing. I also wasn’t a fan of my freshman year being called a “Plebe” (lower-born). I do support the decisions students and their parents make as the best decision for their future. I do not support an unelected body trying to do "reverse political Entropy," turning back the clock of progress to 1953. We are, however, in 2023, and issues like climate change can be solved by going aggressively towards renewables: Texas experienced some of the hottest days on the planet, and their off-the-national grid held because of solar and wind, in an impressive display of irony.

Physics majors who graduate and go to work are prepared for either teaching K-12 or engineering. I worked at Motorola, Advanced Micro Devices, and Applied Materials. I taught Algebra 1, Precalculus, and Physics. So, if it’s any consolation: physics majors will EARN a living and eat! As a generalist, you should be able to master anything you’d be exposed to.

Speaking of Harvard: when I worked at Motorola in Austin, Texas, one of my coworkers was promoted from process engineering to Section Manager of Implant/Diffusion/Thin Films. He attended Harvard, and I, A&T. I still worked in photo and etch, primarily as the etch process engineer on nights. I noticed he had a familiar green book on his bookshelf with yellow, sinusoidal lines on the cover.

Me: Hey! Isn't that a Halladay and Resnick?

Him: Why, yes! What do you know about it?

Me: I learned Physics I from Dr. Tom Sandin (who recently retired after 50 YEARS: 1968 - 2018). He taught Dr. Ron McNair, one of the astronauts on the Space Shuttle Challenger. Physics II was taught to me by Dr. Elvira Williams: she was the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in Physics in the state of North Carolina and the FOURTH to earn a Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics in the nation. Who were your professors?

Him: Look at the time! Got a meeting. Bye!

Life experiences, in the end, overcome legacy and connection. We need a diversity of opinions to solve complex problems. Depending on the same structures and constructs to produce our next innovators isn't just shortsighted: it's magical thinking.

I now do think that 18 might be a little too young for a freshman on any campus and 22 a little too early for graduate school.

Just make the gap a little less than three decades!

The gap between physics bachelor’s recipients and grad school spots is growing, Nicholas T. Young, Caitlin Hayward, and Eric F. Bell, AIP Publishing, Physics Today.

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Megalomania...

You’re going to have to pay me… One Billion Dollars! … Sorry, One Hundred Billion Dollars! Photo: Warner Bros; Getty Images, Jonathan Chait, NY Mag, March 8, 2018

Topics: Civics, Civil Rights, Civilization, Climate Change, Democracy, Diversity in Science, Existentialism, Fascism, Human Rights, Women in Science

Megalomania: a mania for great or grandiose performance; a delusional mental illness that is marked by feelings of personal omnipotence and grandeur

Narcissistic Personality Disorder: a personality disorder characterized especially by an exaggerated sense of self-importance, persistent need for admiration, lack of empathy for others, excessive pride in achievements, and snobbish, disdainful, or patronizing attitudes 

Useful Idiot: a naive or credulous person who can be manipulated or exploited to advance a cause or political agenda. E.g., It is one task of the KGB [in 1982] to apply its skills of secrecy and deception to projecting the Soviet party's influence. This it does through contacts with legal Communist Parties abroad, with groups sympathetic to Soviet goals, with do-gooders of the type that Lenin once described as "useful idiots" ….

—The Wall Street Journal, all the above from Merriam-Webster.com

Are we suffering from mass psychosis? Does it explain January 6, 2021, and the insanity that has descended from it? Was a substantial fraction of our nation led astray by a megalomaniacal, narcissistic useful idiot?

"A flood of negative emotions" is the business model of a lot of news outlets on the right. Determined to regain the audience lost after the Dominion settlement, Jesse Watters succeeds Tucker Carlson at the 8:00 hour, launching into a racist diatribe against the 44th president because they have to get their viewers back to repocket the $787.5 million dollars they had to pay out. Jesse, the "stable genius," forgot that Hawaii is our 50th state, but that occurred almost immediately after November 4, 2008.

When I was a senior in high school, 150 businesses owned everything we saw in print, on television, and heard on AM or FM radio. Now, with the expansion of the Internet, that ratio reduced EXPONENTIALLY to six corporations. With the expansion of the Internet, propaganda can be projected without a filter. Hitler deftly used radio to reach his masses, our current demagogue used Twitter until he was kicked off, and he was so devoted to this avenue he had to generate a knockoff to continue the conversation with his cult. Megalomaniacs never had it so good.

"Dr. Evil" was the antagonist in the Bond derivative "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" and its natural sequel, "The Spy Who Shagged Me." It's the type of flippant character that makes "team normal" think that no one could possibly be that over-the-top. Then, the year 2016 said, "Hold my beer."

Menticide: a systematic and intentional undermining of a person's conscious mind: BRAINWASHING - Merrian-Webster.com

Ms. Senko’s groundbreaking film examines the rise of right-wing media through the lens of her father, whose immersion in its daily propaganda had radicalized him. His new fanaticism rocked the very foundation of their family. She discovered that this phenomenon was occurring with alarming frequency in living rooms across America. The film reveals the consequences that this radicalized media is having on people, families, America, and the world.

The Brainwashing of My Dad (2015)

Rush Limbaugh, of stogies, four traditional marriages (I guess he needed practice?), bombast and blatant racism (I guess why Clarence Thomas liked him?), was the Grand Pooh-Bah/Grand Dragon of an echo chamber that still persists long after his transition. Under the attack of menticide, 24/7 fearmongering on "the border," "CRT," "DEI," "Immigrants," "LGBT," "People of Color," and "Women with bodily autonomy" are the substitutes for "young bucks," "welfare queens," and "Barack the Magic Negro." Rush and his Zombie clones are ginning up fear on a regular basis, hacking everyone's reptilian brain stem made into mountains of gold and an unstable society. There must always be enemies for those who fear change and shadows.

At its core, this is about resources. Resources are subdivided by hierarchies so that certain universities that are "elite" (and beneficiaries of enslaved peoples) are picked first for employment after graduation. Most academic positions at universities seek the same graduates from the same elite PWI schools. Once the dust settles, universities will resegregate, and sadly will Fortune 500 businesses. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion only mattered as slogans to avoid lawsuits post-George Floyd. With the end of Affirmative Action, what holds them accountable if, like campuses, the diversity among the workforce declines? Who would care?

Hierarchies have allowed societies from Egypt to England to rank and rate their populations into the worthy and the unworthy, the Brahmin and the Dalits, and the haves and the have-nots. "Occult" typically refers to magic, but it means hidden, and hiding knowledge is what gives a group self-designated as rulers of the rest their edge. "Conserving" the status quo allows for the continued acquisition of wealth beyond avarice and passing it on to their progeny. That means ignoring inequities, and climate crises, particularly heat waves in Texas's case since most of the workers affected happen to be BIPOC. The "Supreme Court" repealed Roe vs. Wade, Affirmative Action yesterday. What was left untouched: athletic programs, legacy enrollments, the children of employees, and millionaire gifts by benefactors like Fred Trump, that got his stupid son into Penn, and Jared Kushner, who, by his grades, couldn't have gotten into Harvard without daddy-the-jailbird's help. Roe and Affirmative Action were both decided by the Warren Court, an Eisenhower appointee. The Roberts "Court," appointed by "W," who lost the popular vote in 2000, and his Republican successor, who appointed three justices, losing the popular vote in BOTH elections, is determined to repeal the 20th Century and is coming for the 21st in LGBT rights. I use quotes in that the Roberts junta is neither supreme in the practice of law nor a court of jurisprudence. It is the extension of libertarian billionaires, the mythology propagandists of "reverse discrimination," and thus fascistic.

Ayn Rand, for the moment, has won. Welcome to 1953.

This paradigm of looking back to "great again" is unsustainable. We cannot solve income disparities going back to the fifties. No new technical designs will come from the back of the bus. The LGBT will not be returning to the closet to make closeted, cisgender couples feel comfortable in their camouflage bigotry, nor has a single-banned drag show stopped a single gun massacre in America. Women will not be returning to the kitchen and the state of barefoot and pregnant because that idyllic "Leave it to Beaver" Levittown never existed, except in "master-planned communities." Justice Ketanji Brown-Jackson's dissent is poetry.

We're not going back.

We have to figure out climate change, sustainability, and feeding eight billion souls that are growing at an exponential pace that will take us to nine billion in 2037 and ten billion in 2057. I won't be here, but my granddaughter will be. A lot of grandchildren will be. Hoping for starships is like wishing on magic lanterns.

There is no functional analog in nature to a billionaire. Insects run their colonies via pheromones, and the most significant member of the colony is the Queen: males are drones and sperm donors. Patriarchy is a human construct.

The U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) nevertheless estimates that annual investments of $39 billion to $50 billion would be required to achieve a world without hunger by 2030. Source: Brookings Institution.

But they won't. The core of their Hoarding Disorder is maintaining the inequity that puts them at the apex of society's pyramid; they've mistaken a designed system as "natural," making them apex predators. Only the second part is correct.

“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.”

— Nelson Mandela

I'm revamping the SAT program, which ended during the pandemic, for as long as it lasts, with an online component. We'll also discuss strategies to apply to the colleges and universities they desire. The youth are relevant to our shared future and survival.

On a dysfunctional planet, billionaire status is irrelevant.

“Struggle is a never-ending process. Freedom is never really won; you earn it and win it in every generation.”

— Coretta Scott King

“Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”

― Thomas Paine, The American Crisis

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Juneteenth and Equitable Science...

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Figure 1 Overcoming scientific racism as a Community. (Top) This figure depicts the barriers Black scientists face in academia. (Bottom) The bottom part of the figure depicts Black scientists overcoming those challenges.

Topics: Civil Rights, Diversity, Diversity in Science, Women in Science

We are 52 Black scientists. Here, we establish the context of Juneteenth in STEMM and discuss the barriers Black scientists face, the struggles they endure, and the lack of recognition they receive. We review racism’s history in science and provide institutional-level solutions to reduce the burdens on Black scientists.

Keywords

Juneteenth, diversity, STEMM, scientific racism

Introduction

June 19, 1865, independence day, commonly referred to as Juneteenth, celebrates the freedom of the last large body of enslaved Black Americans following the American Civil War. Although the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared free those slaves residing in states in open rebellion against the United States, took effect more than 2 years prior, it was not until Union troops liberated Texas that more than 250,000 slaves gained their freedom. However, some in the United States remained enslaved through convict leasing and sharecropping. Following Juneteenth came the Reconstruction Era (1865–1877) in the United States, a tumultuous time when the North and South began reunification and ideologies of freedom and equality clashed, leading to the ratification of the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution to protect the rights of Black peoples—defined here as people of ancestral African origin, including peoples of African American, African, Afro-Caribbean, and mixed ancestry—in the face of race riots, lynchings, and black codes (restrictive laws designed to limit the advancement of Black individuals to retain cheap labor), including Jim Crow laws. Black and White America developed along segregated and unequal paths. As segregation and intentional underinvestment occurred across education, many Black individuals did not learn to read or write, hampering career opportunities. Across the mid-to-late 1900s, the powerful civil rights movements led to the repeal of many segregationist laws. Even so, some of their effects remained unchanged: Black individuals still faced discrimination and unequal opportunities for education, and to this day, Black communities lack resources.

It took over 150 years for Juneteenth to be recognized as a federal holiday in the summer of 2021, following multiple police killings of Black individuals that gained media prominence in the preceding year. Juneteenth recognizes and celebrates freedom, civil rights, and the potential for the advancement of Black people in the United States. Yet, it also serves as a day of reflection and hopes that a nation might someday live up to its core founding principle—equality for all. Shortly after freeing Black Americans, the US state legislatures enacted harsh laws to curtail their progress; thus, as formal slavery declined, institutional slavery arose. These laws have had generational impacts: today, Black scientists continue to suffer institutional slavery, leading to lower pay, lesser access to resources, and fewer advancement opportunities. In addition to cultural erasure, undervalue, isolation, stereotype threat, and tokenism, Black scientists face many obstacles to attaining education and persisting in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM). As the official correspondence from The White House states,“Juneteenth not only commemorates the past. It calls us to action today.” Juneteenth is a rallying call for all, but it is especially a call for action from scientists. Even though scientific innovation prospers from a richly diverse field, science has historically existed as a bastion for harboring racism.

In this commentary, we seek to explain some of the history of Black individuals in the United States. This includes the initial gap in and continued barriers to income attainment, which have inhibited their growth. We discuss the racist institutions that still exist in science, including lack of recognition for awards and disparities in funding rates. We also consider the toll that institutional racism takes on the mental health of Black individuals, which has unfortunately led to suicides. Finally, we note the double binds for those with intersectionality—e.g., those underrepresented by a combination of gender, sexual orientation, disability status, and race. Together, these limitations inhibit the progression of individuals through the elitist STEMM pipeline.1 Given the continued exclusion of Black scientists at different levels of STEMM training, it is important to recognize the relevance of Juneteenth as well as how it may contribute to future improvements. We offer steps that institutions and wider bodies should take to reduce the impact of racism in science (Figure 1). Importantly, we consider Juneteenth a growth pillar and propose steps to improve mentoring, institutional support, and training to reduce remaining institutional barriers.

Juneteenth in STEMM and the Barriers to equitable science, Cell dot com

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Innocence...

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Topics: African Americans, Civics, Civil Rights, Civilization, Climate Change, Democracy, Diversity in Science, Environment, Existentialism, Fascism, Global Warming, Human Rights

Trauma at 55

© April 3, 2023, the Griot Poet

 

Graduation day.

No child smiling because we

Lost Martin Thursday.

 

April is National Poetry Month. This photo of five-year-old me inspired my haiku about my kindergarten graduation. It should have been a happy day with parents in the audience.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on Thursday, April 4, 1968. Our graduation was scheduled for Friday at Bethlehem Community Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

All thirty-six students were blissfully unaware of the political earthquake that this was or that it had occurred. As we all aged, we probably learned of the death threats and the near assassination by a deranged woman at a book signing. We were unaware of the "Missiles of October" in 1962, barely scratching the planet's surface or taking our first steps before potential Armageddon. Medgar Evers was assassinated in Mississippi in June of 1963, and President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November of the same year in Dallas when we were a little over a year old. Brother Malcolm was assassinated in February 1965 when we were almost three. I don't recall the University of Texas. Clock Tower shooting in 1966, but we were four then. My classmates, like me, probably heard a program on the local radio station, WAAA-AM, on Sundays from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, "Martin Luther King Speaks." At that time, the caveat was that he spoke, addressing his audience directly over AM, the complete analog of today's social media. What are now tapes or YouTube videos for later generations: it was him, alive, breathing, and speaking. Martin, then Robert F. Kennedy, June 6, the president's brother running for president, fell that year.

I recall my mother kissing me profusely, promising to be there for the graduation, and saying "I love you" repeatedly. I had no doubts about that.

I also remember my father's eyes: red with bloodshot, dried tears on his cheeks. To that point in my brief existence, the thought of him crying was alien, foreign.

The kindergarten teachers sat us down. We assumed to prepare us for the costumes we would wear – white shorts, shirts, and bow ties for the boys, and skirts for the girls.

"Children, Dr. Martin Luther King was shot yesterday and died."

Stunned silence.

I am on the front row, the photo's first student on the left. The eighth student on that row is a girl who I recall having a crush on: she has her right knee pointing towards her left leg. She would break the silence before our ceremony with an ear-piercing screech, repetitive, inconsolable grief beyond her years, perhaps mimicked from a funeral. We all knew what "died" meant. In some form or fashion, by five, you have lost beloved pets or relatives that you never thought would leave the Earth.

The seed from her grief cascaded through the graduates like a malignant vine. The time was 9:00. We cried for two hours, during which someone with a pickup truck, a rebel flag flying, drove through the parking lot, yelling over and over so our young ears and teachers could hear him, "Martin Luther Coon's dead! Yahoo! The South will rise again!"

I lay on the linoleum, palm heels in my eye sockets, wailing my [own] notes. The teachers were crying with us, trying to console themselves and us, allowing us our grief. We went down for a nap at 11:00. Perhaps our teachers did too.

We went out for a brief recess, probably to clear the fog from our brains, but as I recall, we moved like zombies, with no one on the seesaw, children sitting, staring numbly on the swings, and no action on the monkey bars. Then we went in and got dressed.

Our parents would be there at 1:30 pm. I have described why not a single child graduating in the photo was smiling. Staring at my unsmiling, well, forced smiling parents, I remember this poignant thought post-grief beyond my brief years:

 

"We're not kids anymore!"

We would all start first grade in the fall without him.

I hugged my big sister tightly that evening, a student activist in the Civil Rights Movement attending Winston-Salem State University, because I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, what "died" meant.

*****

Devolution

(Post-Cold War and 9/11)

© April 4, 2023, the Griot Poet

 

I did duck-and-hide

Drills, kids as cold warriors:

Now, active shooter.

 

My employer hosted an Active Shooter/Stop the Bleeding training at my facility on probably the most insensitive date they could pick on the calendar: the 55th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. King. As the first haiku eludes, time does not heal trauma. For the first half, both instructors had experience in law enforcement and the military. The second set of three instructors from a local trauma center featured a combat medic, who taught us through a cadaver dummy to stuff gauze from a "stop the bleeding kit" (there is a website to order directly).

I participated in the class vigorously to fight the "sugar crash" from the doughnuts offered.

We saw a lot of videos, one featuring the shooter in the Naval Shipyards gun massacre. The other was the bodycam video from the recent incident in Tennessee at a Christian School where three adults in their early sixties (around my same age) and three nine-year-old children were sacrificed on the altar of American Moloch. The original intent of particularly white evangelical Christian schools was to protect the "innocence" of their children from sitting next to someone like me. Somehow "thoughts and prayers" for a Christian school, no doubt inspired by Brown vs. Board of Education being actualized in the South, seemed oxymoronic.

"Duck-and-hide," or more accurately, duck-and-cover, where drills were part of civilian preparedness in the event World War Three spontaneously broke out. They gave us manuals we should read (I still have mine). The teachers and manual said that getting under the desk was the best way to survive the nuclear fallout if you were not the center of the blast radius. Preconscious and curious, my parents had bought the complete volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Internet of its day. Foreshadowing my eventual STEM majors in Engineering Physics, Microelectronics, and Nanoengineering, I read the "Nu" volume on nuclear weapons. I sadly concluded after my research that the drills were government-sanctioned gaslighting, a word I now use. The word I used then is a two-syllable word with the popular abbreviation "B.S." Plutonium 239, the ore of choice for thermonuclear weapons, has a half-life of 24,100 years, meaning that it would be half as radioactive in about 24 millennia. This drill wasn't to save lives but to reduce panicked stampeding that, I admit, would help no one. The official nuclear doctrine of deterrence is M.A.D.: mutually assured destruction. We'll see if Russia in Ukraine remembers this at all.

The United States has been in some war 93% of the time from 1775 (before its existence) to 2018. This factum is according to Smithsonian Magazine. The article's caveat is how to interpret "war": declared congressionally, unilaterally by the executive, or (in my opinion) upon one's citizens.

I will attend my precocious granddaughter's fourth birthday party this National Poetry Month. She is one year younger than my five-year-old image. After getting her a "Dr. McStuffin's Medical Kit" for Christmas, she immediately assigned herself as her grandparents' doctor. She even does televisits when we chat on Google Hangout.

Yet she grows up in a world of the continuous threat of Armageddon. Add to that designed scarcity, economic Disaster Capitalism cum neoliberalism, rising global temperatures, and active shooter training when she starts kindergarten in the fall, minus the "stop the bleeding kits," even with her Dr. McStuffin credentials. Because of the malaise of government and gun lobbyists, we've reduced her citizenry to becoming a combat medic in the future, whether she wants to or not.

I bought a "stop the bleeding" kit. It should be here before Easter.

"We're not kids anymore!"

None of us are.

 

 

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Multidisciplinarity...

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Topics: Diversity in Science, Education, Medicine, Research, STEM

AAAS will bring together a diverse group of professionals in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM) to tackle the barriers to individuals entering and staying in careers in those fields.

The first Multidisciplinary Working Group (MWG), called Empowering Career Pathways in STEMM (ECP), will focus on developing recommendations that acknowledge and value the variety of professional journeys that contribute equally to the scientific enterprise.

“We need to abandon the idea of a so-called gold standard for what a STEMM career looks like and outdated notions of success that have resulted in excluding and losing talent and, more importantly, potential,” said Julie Rosen, AAAS’ director of strategic initiatives, who was brought on board to launch and oversee the MWGs.

Some of the major barriers to individuals entering STEMM careers and challenges to retaining talent include exclusionary practices that limit access to career opportunities, disincentives for those wanting to make career changes, unrealistic goals for success, and disconnects between formal training and on-the-job competencies.

“The landscape that early-career scientists are facing is nebulous and, for those coming from communities or backgrounds that are underrepresented in STEMM, it can seem insurmountable,” said Gilda Barabino, chair of the AAAS Board of Directors and president of Olin College of Engineering. “By identifying ways to reimagine how a career in science or engineering may play out, the first AAAS working group will empower multiple paths that can help strengthen the STEMM enterprise.”

Inaugural AAAS Multidisciplinary Working Group to Focus on STEMM Workforce Development

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AAAS Science Awards...

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Topics: Diversity in Science, Education, Research, STEM, Theoretical Physics

The American Association for the Advancement of Science has announced the 2023 winners of eight longstanding awards that recognize scientists, engineers, innovators, and public servants for their contributions to science and society.

The awards honor individuals and teams for a range of achievements, from advancing science diplomacy and engaging the public in order to boost scientific understanding to mentoring the next generation of scientists and engineers.

The 2023 winners were first announced on social media between Feb. 23 and Feb. 28; see the hashtag #AAASAward to learn more. The winners were also recognized at the 2023 AAAS Annual Meeting, held in Washington, D.C., March 2-5. The winning individuals and teams were honored with tribute videos and received commemorative plaques during several plenary sessions.

Six of the awards include a prize of $5,000, while the AAAS David and Betty Hamburg Award for Science Diplomacy award the winning individual or team $10,000, and the AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize awards the winning individual or team $25,000.

Learn more about the awards’ history, criteria, and selection processes via the AAAS awards page, and read on to learn more about the individuals and teams who earned the 2023 awards.

*****

Sekazi Mtingwa is the recipient of the 2023 AAAS Philip Hauge Abelson Prize, which recognizes someone who has made significant contributions to the scientific community — whether through research, policy, or civil service — in the United States. The awardee can be a public servant, scientist, or individual in any field who has made sustained, exceptional contributions and other notable services to the scientific community. Mtingwa exemplifies a commitment to service and dedication to the scientific community, research workforce, and society. His contributions have shaped research, public policy, and the next generation of scientific leaders, according to the award’s selection committee.

As a theoretical physicist, Mtingwa pioneered work on intrabeam scattering that is foundational to particle accelerator research. Today a principal partner at Triangle Science, Education and Economic Development, where he consults on STEM education and economic development, Mtingwa has been affiliated during his scientific career with North Carolina A&T State University, Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and several national laboratories.

His contributions to the scientific community have included a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in physics. He co-founded the National Society of Black Physicists, which today is a home for more than 500 Black physicists and students. His work has also contributed to rejuvenating university nuclear science and engineering programs and paving the way for the next generation of nuclear scientists and engineers. Mtingwa served as the chair of a 2008 American Physical Society study on the readiness of the U.S. nuclear workforce, the results of which played a key role in the U.S. Department of Energy allocating 20% of its nuclear fuel cycle R&D budget to university programs.

“I have devoted myself to being an apostle for science for those both at home and abroad who face limited research and training opportunities,” said Mtingwa. “Receiving the highly prestigious Philip Hauge Abelson Prize affirms that I have been successful in this mission. Moreover, it provides me with the armor to press onward to even greater contributions.”

AAAS Recognizes 2023 Award Winners for Contributions to Science and Society, Andrea Korte

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To Infinity and Beyond...

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Topics: African Americans, Diversity in Science, Women in Science

NASA Engineer, Concha Reid

Many people can reflect on their childhoods and identify the one moment that sparked their passion, ultimately illuminating their path to reach their career goals. For Concha Reid, the absence of light in her Virgin Islands hometown ignited her interest in power systems.

“We frequently had power outages on the island when I was growing up,” said Reid. “The reliability of the electrical grid wasn’t as robust as the United States, and hurricanes knocked out electrical power for lengthy periods of time.”

Reid saw the potential for power systems to be more reliable and realized that studying math and science was an avenue to solving real-world problems. Her school on the island of St. Thomas didn’t have advanced placement courses, but her teachers recognized her love of learning and mentored her along the way.

*****

Social Media Lead Courtney Lee

“When I started on the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope team, many people would say that our symbol looked like the alien from Space Invader. And I thought, what if we play into that and create a video game around the idea? It took a few months, but I pitched it, and the team absolutely loved it. We got the funding, worked with the developer, and got it done; we created the Roman Space Observer video game last year and released it on June 2nd.

“I love video games and thought we should meet people where they are, which is another way of creating content with people in mind. Just because we can create content doesn’t mean we should create content, so I want to ensure that everything we develop answers a question and has a purpose.

“I wanted to create a game because right now, a lot of what we [at NASA] make is geared toward people who already know the science and are interested in NASA. But there are huge audiences out there who, like me, didn’t realize they could love or be intrigued with NASA because it was never where they were. It’s not on these video game platforms. It’s not on YouTube beauty channels. Do you know what I mean? It’s not where people are watching.

*****

Project Manager Dr. Marcus Johnson

“In acting, a method actor becomes the thing, right?

“I hear and see a lot about techniques in technology in certain areas like AI. My personality tends to levitate toward wanting to try things out, wanting to build and break, as opposed to watching from the stands. So, it may not be with every piece of technology, but every year, I try to take one or two things I want to learn and get some hands-on experience. I ensure I have time within my day to think about the bigger picture. Think about things that haven’t been created yet, instead of just working the here and now.

“For example, [outside my work as the project manager for the Advanced Capabilities for Emergency Response Operations (ACERO)], I took training to be qualified as a Type 2 Wildland Firefighter. Part of my interest was to better understand who I was developing technology for and how they would use it. So, I went through many training courses and got my certification this year. I hope that sometime this fire season, I can get an opportunity to go out and help out with the fires, particularly in California.

“And likewise with my drone’s pilot license. My kids were interested in my drone work, and during the last extended furlough, I decided to learn a new skill in flying drones. And so, [outside of my work on uncrewed aircraft systems], I got a drone pilot license and showed my kids how to fly drones.

A plethora of trailblazers is at the following link: NASA Image Gallery Black History Month.

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Class of '78...

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Topics: African Americans, Diversity in Science, NASA

The inclusion of women and people of color in NASA’s astronaut cadet program was unprecedented — and sometimes met fierce resistance.

The New Guys: The Historic Class of Astronauts That Broke Barriers and Changed the Face of Space Travel, Meredith Bagby, William Morrow (2023)

Growing up in racially segregated South Carolina in the 1950s, Ronald McNair saw door after door slammed in his face. The public pool was for white people only, so he could not learn to swim. When he was nine years old, a librarian called the police on him for trying to borrow calculus books.

McNair fought the racism and went on to study physics at the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro — a historically Black institution — and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. In 1978, NASA chose him as a finalist to be an astronaut, in the first group to contain women, people of color, and scientists. His pioneering class included Sally Ride, who would become the first US woman in space; Ellison Onizuka, the first Asian American in space; and Guion Bluford, the first African American in space.

With The New Guys, Meredith Bagby, a film producer and former journalist has produced a broad and easily readable narrative about this group of US astronauts. She does not break new ground in outlining their experiences and the team’s role in space history. But she does illuminate the historic nature of their selection — and, significantly, how they helped to shape NASA’s space shuttle program, from its first flight in 1981 until its end in 2011.

NASA’s first astronaut class, chosen in 1959, was the iconic Mercury Seven which included John Glenn, Alan Shepard, and Gus Grissom. The next six groups were similar: all white, male military pilots lionized for having “the right stuff.” Then came the class of 1978. Of the 35 new astronauts, 14 were civilians, 6 were women, and 4 were men of color.

It was a time of huge change for NASA. The Apollo Moon program had wound down, and NASA had set its sights on developing a reusable space plane that would launch like a rocket and land like an airplane. Astronauts on this vehicle would deploy military and scientific satellites into space. It was time for a new type of astronaut for a new type of spaceship.

Breaking through prejudice

Bagby views the shuttle era through the experiences of its astronauts, with a focus on women moving into new roles. They include Ride, a gay woman who remained in the closet while at NASA because the agency would not hire her otherwise; geologist Kathryn Sullivan; physicians Rhea Seddon and Anna Fisher; biochemist Shannon Lucid; and engineer Judith Resnik.

In the late 1970s, the view in much of NASA’s ranks was that the agency had lowered its standards to admit a more diverse class, and the class acquired the soubriquet “Those Fucking New Guys.” John Glenn and Chuck Yeager, the quintessential “right stuff” pilots, were among those who fought against hiring women as astronauts. Opposition from Yeager had probably helped to keep Ed Dwight, a Black test pilot, from joining a previous class.

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Note: Younger me, off Dr. McNair's left shoulder looking down at the floor. Someone dropped their keys, I reacted, and the faux pas is preserved for all Internet eternity.

Source: https://journalnow.com/news/local/30-things-you-should-know-about-astronaut-ronald-mcnair/article_b6e2357c-8b07-550c-bf19-f4a713047e76.amp.html

How NASA’s breakthrough ‘class of ’78’ changed the face of space travel, Alexandra Witze, Nature

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RNA and Covid-19...

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NIST researcher Megan Cleveland uses a PCR machine to amplify DNA sequences by copying them numerous times through a series of chemical reactions.
Credit: M. Cleveland/NIST

Topics: Biology, Biotechnology, COVID-19, Diversity in Science, NIST, Research, Women in Science

Scientists track and monitor the circulation of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, using methods based on a laboratory technique called polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Also used as the “gold standard” test to diagnose COVID-19 in individuals, PCR amplifies pieces of DNA by copying them numerous times through a series of chemical reactions. The number of cycles it takes to amplify DNA sequences of interest so that they are detectable by the PCR machine, known as the cycle threshold (Ct), is what researchers and medical professionals look at to detect the virus.

However, not all labs get the same Ct values (sometimes also called “Cq” values). In efforts to make the results more comparable between labs, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) contributed to a multiorganizational study that looked at anchoring these Ct values to a reference sample with known amounts of the virus.

Researchers published their findings in the journal PLOS One.

SARS-CoV-2 is an RNA virus: Its genetic material is single-stranded instead of double-stranded like DNA and contains some different molecular building blocks, namely uracil in place of thymine. But the PCR test only works with DNA, and labs first must convert the RNA to DNA to screen for COVID-19. For the test, RNA is isolated from a patient’s sample and combined with other ingredients, including short DNA sequences are known as primers, to transform the RNA into DNA.

RNA Reference Materials Are Useful for Standardizing COVID-19 Tests, Study Shows, NIST

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Uhura to Proctor...

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Topics: Diversity in Science, NASA, Space Exploration, Spaceflight, SpaceX, Star Trek

Dr. King revealed to Nichols that TOS was the only show that he and his wife, Coretta, allowed their little children to stay up and watch. Further, he told Nichols what the show meant to him personally and detailed the importance of her having created a character with "dignity and knowledge." Nichols took it all in and finally said, “Thank you so much, Dr. King. I’m really going to miss my co-stars.” Dr. King's smile, Nichols recalled, vanished from his face.

"He said, 'What are you talking about?'" the actress explained. "I told him. He said, 'You cannot,' and so help me, this man practically repeated verbatim what Gene said. He said, 'Don’t you see what this man is doing, who has written this? This is the future. He has established us as we should be seen. Three hundred years from now, we are here. We are marching. And this is the first step. When we see you, we see ourselves, and we see ourselves as intelligent and beautiful and proud.' He goes on and I’m looking at him and my knees are buckling. I said, 'I…, I…' And he said, 'You turn on your television and the news comes on and you see us marching and peaceful, you see the peaceful civil disobedience, and you see the dogs and see the fire hoses, and we all know they cannot destroy us because we are there in the 23rd century.'

Nichelle Nichols Remembers Dr. King, the StarTrek.com staff

Note: At this posting, she made history yesterday.

Sian Proctor is making history as the first-ever Black female spacecraft pilot. 

Proctor, a geoscientist, artist, and science communicator, has been paving the way in the space sector for decades. Now, years after being a finalist in NASA's astronaut candidate program back in 2009, she is realizing her dream of becoming an astronaut as she launches to orbit with the Inspiration4 mission tonight (Sept. 15).

While the mission itself is making history as the first all-civilian mission to launch to orbit, Proctor is accomplishing a major first herself as the first Black female spacecraft pilot. 

"I'm really grateful to be here and to have this opportunity," Proctor said Sept. 14 during a news conference with reporters. "There have been three Black female astronauts that have made it to space, and knowing that I'm going to be the fourth means that I have this opportunity to not only accomplish my dream but also inspire the next generation of women of color and girls of color and really get them to think about reaching for the stars and what that means."

Sian Proctor makes history with SpaceX's Inspiration4 as first-ever Black female spacecraft pilot, Chelsea Gohd, Space.com

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Aiming the Archer...

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The 18 members of NASA's Artemis Team, from top left to bottom right: Joe Acaba, Kayla Barron, Raja Chari, Matthew Dominick, Victor Glover, Woody Hoburg, Jonny Kim, Christina Koch, Kjell Lindgren, Nicole Mann, Anne McClain, Jessica Meir, Jasmin Moghbeli, Kate Rubins, Frank Rubio, Scott Tingle, Jessica Watkins and Stephanie Wilson.  (Image credit: NASA via collectSPACE.com)

Topics: Diversity in Science, Moonbase, NASA, Space Exploration, Spaceflight

Artemis, in Greek religion, the goddess of wild animals, the hunt, and vegetation, and of chastity and childbirth; she was identified by the Romans with Diana. Artemis was the daughter of Zeus and Leto and the twin sister of Apollo. Source: Britannica

The Biden administration's crucial first 100 days in office now includes a big human spaceflight pledge.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday (Feb. 4) that President Joe Biden will carry on the Artemis program to land humans on the moon in the coming years. Artemis began under Biden's predecessor, then-President Donald Trump. 

"Through the Artemis program, the United States government will work with industry and international partners to send astronauts to the surface of the moon — another man and a woman to the moon," Psaki told reporters in a White House press briefing Thursday.

"Certainly, we support this effort and endeavor," she added.

Psaki's comments, which were in answer to a reporter's question, did not mention NASA's 2024 target for the first crewed Artemis moon landing, a deadline set by the Trump administration. Last year, a bipartisan effort in the U.S. House of Representatives sought to push that landing mission to 2028 instead, in line with NASA's previous goals.

US still committed to landing Artemis astronauts on the moon, White House says, Elizabeth Howell, Space.com

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Black History Month...

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Illustration of Anthony M. Johnson working in an ultrafast laser lab; Ronald McNair playing the saxophone aboard the Challenger; Mercedes Richards in front of a computer.Illustration by Abigal Malate, American Institute of Physics

Topics: African Americans, Diaspora, Diversity in Science, Women in Science

Former First Lady, Secretary of State, and Presidential Candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton said "women's rights are human rights." Comparatively, Black History is American History. The insurrection at the Capitol wasn't just white privilege on-steroids, it was ignorance writ large. Not that the information isn't in their face for twenty-eight days, twenty-nine on leap years, but an ignorance born of willfulness, arrogance, hubris, and mental deficiencies.

The Middle Passage. December 7, 1941. The Holocaust. September 11, 2001. January 6, 2021. All is a part of our history, days that shall live in infamy. Days we commemorate in ceremony, observance, remembrance, and a commitment within our souls: never again.

You don't forgive anything by shrugging, and the victims of violence never forget. We've all been experiencing posttraumatic stress disorder for four years we would LIKE to forget, but we'd rather heal from, in the light of science, and truth.

The American Psychiatric Association has never officially recognized extreme racism (as opposed to ordinary prejudice) as a mental health problem, although the issue was raised more than 30 years ago. After several racist killings in the civil rights era, a group of black psychiatrists sought to have extreme bigotry classified as a mental disorder. The association's officials rejected the recommendation, arguing that because so many Americans are racist, even extreme racism in this country is normative—a cultural problem rather than an indication of psychopathology.

The psychiatric profession's primary index for diagnosing psychiatric symptoms, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), does not include racism, prejudice, or bigotry in its text or index.

Therefore, there is currently no support for including extreme racism under any diagnostic category. This leads psychiatrists to think that it cannot and should not be treated in their patients.

To continue perceiving extreme racism as normative and not pathologic is to lend it legitimacy. Clearly, anyone who scapegoats a whole group of people and seeks to eliminate them to resolve his or her internal conflicts meets the criteria for a delusional disorder, a major psychiatric illness.

Is Extreme Racism a Mental Illness? Yes. It can be a delusional symptom of psychotic disorders. Alvin F Poussaint, Professor of psychiatry.

When astronaut Mae Jemison saw actress Nichelle Nichols portray Lt. Uhura on Star Trek, her life was changed forever. Seeing an African-American role model helped steer Jemison toward a goal – she was determined to join NASA and become an astronaut. Years later, Jemison achieved her goal when she made history as the first African-American woman to go into space with the U.S. space program.

Jemison’s accomplishment had positive ripple effects, and now she is cited as a source of inspiration for so many African-American students who are themselves reaching for the stars, but Jemison is not alone. There are many African-American physical scientists, such as Jedidah IslerHakeem OluseyiChandra Precod-WeinsteinSylvester James GatesTabbetha DobbinsJC Holbrook, and so many others, who are doing important scientific work and also influencing countless students.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are essential components to the success of our fields. In recognition of that fact, the American Institute of Physics adopted a Strategic Framework in 2019 that aims to “advance the physical sciences with a unifying voice of strength from diversity.” Further, we are committed to becoming an institution that “leads the physical sciences community toward an impactful understanding of how to be more welcoming to, and supportive of, the full diversity of physical scientists throughout their [education and] careers.”

Black History Month, American Institute of Physics

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Physicists Look Like Me...

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Topics: African Americans, Diversity in Science, Women in Science

The National Society of Black Physicists stands with those that fight against systemic racism and for freedom, equality, liberty, and justice to become a reality for all of America’s citizens. Click the button below to read the statement from our president.

National Society of Black Physicists, Dr. Stephon Alexander, President

The Genesis of the National Society of Black Physicists, Dr. Ronald E. Mickens, Clark Atlanta University Department of Physics, NSBP Spring 1999

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Nabta Playa...

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The stone circle of Nabta Playa marks the summer solstice, a time that coincided with the arrival of monsoon rains in the Sahara Desert thousands of years ago. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Topics: African Studies, Astronomy, Astrophysics, Diversity in Science

For thousands of years, ancient societies all around the world erected massive stone circles, aligning them with the sun and stars to mark the seasons. These early calendars foretold the coming of spring, summer, fall, and winter, helping civilizations track when to plant and harvest crops. They also served as ceremonial sites, both for celebration and sacrifice.

These megaliths — large, prehistoric monuments made of stone — may seem mysterious in our modern era, when many people lack a connection with, or even view of, the stars. Some even hold them up as supernatural or divined by aliens. But many ancient societies kept time by tracking which constellations rose at sunset, like reading a giant, celestial clock. And others pinpointed the sun’s location in the sky on the summer and winter solstice, the longest and shortest days of the year, or the spring and fall equinox.

Europe alone holds some 35,000 megaliths, including many astronomically-aligned stone circles, as well as tombs (or cromlechs) and other standing stones. These structures were mostly built between 6,500 and 4,500 years ago, largely along the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts.

The most famous of these sites is Stonehenge, a monument in England that’s thought to be around 5,000 years old. Though still old, at that age, Stonehenge may have been one of the youngest such stone structures to be built in Europe.

The chronology and extreme similarities between these widespread European sites lead some researchers to think the regional tradition of constructing megaliths first emerged along the coast of France. It was then passed across the region, eventually reaching Great Britain.

But even these primitive sites are at least centuries younger than the world’s oldest known stone circle: Nabta Playa.

Located in Africa, Nabta Playa stands some 700 miles south of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. It was built more than 7,000 years ago, making Nabta Playa the oldest stone circle in the world — and possibly Earth’s oldest astronomical observatory. It was constructed by a cattle worshiping cult of nomadic people to mark the summer solstice and the arrival of the monsoons.

“Here is human beings’ first attempt to make some serious connection with the heavens," says J. McKim Malville, a professor emeritus at the University of Colorado and archeoastronomy expert.

Nabta Playa: The World's First Astronomical Site Was Built in Africa and Is Older Than Stonehenge, Eric Betz, Discover Magazine

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#BlackInPhysics...

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Topics: African Americans, Diversity in Science, Physics

Throughout the week of 25 October, Black physicists, their allies, and the general public are invited to participate in #BlackInPhysics Week, a social media-based event dedicated to celebrating Black physicists and their contributions to the scientific community and to revealing a more complete picture of what a physicist looks like. Programming includes professional panels, a job fair, and an open mic night. If you are interested in learning more and registering for the events, check out blackinphysics.org or @BlackInPhysics on Twitter.

The lead organizers of #BlackInPhysics Week are Charles D. Brown II, an atomic and condensed-matter physicist; Jessica Esquivel, a particle physicist; and Eileen Gonzales, an astronomer studying brown dwarfs and exoplanets. Co-organizers include Jessica Tucker, a quantum information scientist; LaNell Williams, a biophysicist; Vanessa Sanders, a radiochemist; Bryan Ramson, a particle physicist; Xandria Quichocho, a physics education researcher; Marika Edwards, an astrophysicist, and engineer; Ashley Walker, an astrochemist; Cheyenne Polius, an astrophysicist; and Ciara Sivels, a nuclear engineer.

Brown, Esquivel, Gonzales, Quichocho, and Polius answered questions about #BlackInPhysics Week and described how physics became their passion.

Meet the organizers of #BlackInPhysics Week, Physics Today

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