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 Isler, Hakeem Oluseyi, Chandra Precod-Weinstein, Sylvester James Gates, Tabbetha Dobbins, JC 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.”
Also in 2019, the AIP Board of Directors passed a Resolution on Diversity in Member Society Volunteer Appointments.
In January, 2020, AIP’s TEAM-UP Task Force released its groundbreaking report, “The Time is Now: Systemic Changes to Increase African Americans with Bachelor’s Degrees in Physics and Astronomy.” In the report, TEAM-UP uncovers long-term systemic issues within the physics and astronomy communities that contribute to the underrepresentation of African Americans in these fields and makes important, actionable recommendations for community-wide efforts to reverse this trend.
AIP is so proud to celebrate Black History Month. Visibility and representation matter, and one small act – such as seeing a role model achieve success – can have lasting effects on a person’s future.
During February, AIP is committing itself to highlighting resources and materials that celebrate the accomplishments of African-American scientists. We want to elevate their experiences, and we hope to inform and inspire in the process. Be sure to follow our social channels @AIP_HQ, @AIP_TEAMUP, @Michael_AIP, @AIP_Library, @AIP_History, @SPSNational, @AIP_Stats, @PhysicsToday, @InsideScience, and #BlackHistoryAIP this month, and feel free to join in on the conversation.
Interview with Evelynn Hammonds, the Barbara Gutman Rosenkrantz Professor of the History of Science and Professor of African and African-American Studies at Harvard University, who speaks about racial diversity in physics, and what needs to change in the scientific community to achieve greater diversity. Hammonds is the first African-American and the first woman ever to become a Dean of Harvard College.
Interview with James Edward Maceo West, African American inventor, acoustician, and research professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Mechanical Engineering at the Johns Hopkins University. He is a co-inventor of the electret microphone.
In honor of Black History Month, we have gathered some AIP resources featuring African American scientists at all levels, from undergraduate students to working professionals to historical figures whose contributions to science and humanity are worthy of celebration.
Images and Library Resources
Resources from the Society of Physics Students
Resources from AIP's Statistical Research Center
Resources from Inside Science
Resources from Physics Today
Resources from FYI