Tallahassee, FL. – On average, approximately 15 PhDs in physics are awarded to African Americans in the United States each year, according to data from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Florida A&M University (FAMU) awarded five Ph.D. degrees in physics to African Americans during the 2006-2007 academic year—a significant portion of the total national output.
“There are so few African-American physicists produced,” said Roman Czujko, director of the Statistical Research Center at the American Institute of Physics (AIP). “The numbers have bounced between 12 to 22 over the last five years. The recent graduates of FAMU’s doctoral physics program are a very big percentage.”
- Jeremy Jackson earned his Ph.D. in physics from FAMU in August 2006. He is now a postdoctoral fellow at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee;
- Stephen Roberson and Eddie Red earned Ph.D. degrees in physics from FAMU in December 2006. Roberson is a National Research Council Fellow at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory in Aberdeen, Md. Red accepted an E. O. Lawrence Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Lawrence-Berkeley National Laboratory, University of California;
- Cleon Barnett and Eli Leon earned Ph.D. degrees in physics from FAMU in May 2007. Barnett is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in forensic science at Florida International University. Leon is an Adjunct Physics Instructor at FAMU.
FAMU’s Ph.D. program in physics is the only one of its kind in the southeast, according to Professor Charles Weatherford. In addition to a standard physics curriculum, the university has two new research centers with academic programs in astrophysics, astrochemistry, and plasma science and technology.
“Physics is the fundamental science—the basis for all of the natural sciences,” said Weatherford. “Our country needs this workforce to study new ways to generate energy, to work in the national defense effort, and in general to staff the national scientific enterprise. We have to produce physicists who can do this important work.”
FAMU was recently awarded a $5 million grant from the NSF to establish the Center for Astrophysical Science and Technology (CAST). A major objective of the grant is to increase the number of African-American PhDs in astrophysics and astrochemistry.
FAMU aims to produce 15 African-American PhDs in these areas over the five-year grant period.
According to the AIP Statistical Research Center, FAMU has averaged five physics bachelors per year for 2002, 2003 and 2004. Research programs at FAMU, such as CAST and CePaST (Center for Plasma Science and Technology), are establishing a strong pipeline for baccalaureate-degree holders to pursue graduate-level degrees in physics, including the Ph.D. “We are a newly-minted PhD program that is committed to educating and graduating our students,” Weatherford added. “We are constantly working to diversify our physics program by also trying to recruit more female students.”
Physics is concerned with how the universe works from the smallest sub-nucleon matter to the entire universe—it is concerned with the pre-origin of the universe (what pre-dated it) and its ultimate destiny including everything that is matter and energy, dark or non-dark. Basic research in physics has led to the development of transistors, cell phones, computers, television, lasers, magnetic resonance imagers, electron microscopes, x-ray machines, superconductors, all varieties of medical imagers including the new proton therapy accelerators. Physics, as the foundation of biology and chemistry, is pointing the way for the medical science revolution that is presently occurring, and will continue for the indefinite future.
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