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

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.”

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.


AIP Resources

TEAM-UP Report

Interview with African American inventor James Edward West

Interview with Harvard Science Historian Evelynn Hammonds

Scholarships, Awards, Fellowships for Under-represented Minorities in Physics

Programs and Courses Provided by Member Societies to support Under-represented Minorities in Physics

#AskABlackPhysicist Twitter Chats

AIP Celebrates #Hubble30 With Astronaut Charles Bolden wherein he tells the story of how Ronald McNair pushed him to apply for NASA’s space program.

Pride Month Profile: Alan Alves Brito

Pride Month Profile: Katemari Rosa

Pride Month Profile: Jessica Esquivel

Pride Month Profile: Xandria Quichocho

Black Physicists Illustrations


Images and Library Resources

Ron Mickens Photo Collection featuring distinguished African-American physicists

Photos of African American Scientists (Emilio Segre' Visual Archives)

2015 Black History Month gallery from the ESVA

Oral history interviews, African American physicists.

Teaching Guides filtered for African American physicists


Resources from the Society of Physics Students

Fall 2020 Observer Article: SPS on Racism and Protests

University of Rochester SPS Chapter Responds to Black Lives Matter: How We Need to Change

Statement on Diversity and Inclusion

Toward a Culture of Inclusion—Fall 2019 issue of the SPS Observer

Sticking Together: The Value of Diversity and Inclusion in Physics

Understanding and Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in Physics

SPS Observer Advice on Promoting Diversity as a Department

Seeking Unification: Advice for Promoting Diversity as a Department

Inaugural Conference for Undergraduate Underrepresented Minorities in Physics

Why is Diversity Important for Science?


Resources from AIP's Statistical Research Center

Data on education and employment in physics, astronomy and other physical sciences

Number and Percent of Physics Bachelor's Degrees Earned by African-Americans

African-American Participation Among Bachelors in the Physical Sciences and Engineering


Resources from Inside Science

An Inside Science Q&A from 2017 with author Duchess Harris about the historic economic and social factors that led African-American women to work as human computers for NASA

Inside Science explores Euler’s Method, a math technique that gets a special mention by Katherine Johnson’s character in the hit movie “Hidden Figures”


Resources from Physics Today

Q&A series: Black voices in physics

Meet the organizers of #BlackInPhysics Week

Physics Today interviews NSBP president Willie Rockward

Physics Today spotlights the life and work of Elmer Samuel Imes

Physics Today interviews black physicists and astronomers from the National Society of Black Physicists

Physics Today Commentary: Celebrating and supporting African American women in physics

Physics Today Commentary: Diversity in physics: Are you part of the problem?


Resources from FYI

Task Force Urges ‘Systemic Changes’ to Support African American Students in Physics

Congress Perpetuates Dedicated Funding Stream for Minority Serving Institutions

Funding Stream for STEM Programs at Minority Serving Institutions in Limbo

Johnson Revives Marquee STEM Diversity Bill

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson Prepared to Take the Helm of Science Committee

NSF Scaling Up STEM Diversity Efforts with INCLUDES Network


Non-AIP Resources

The history of the National Society of Black Physicists

Timeline of the first black physics Ph.Ds. 

Who are the black physicists?

How African American women succeed in physics 

African American Women in Physics 

APS Physicist Profiles