In Celebration of Dr. Ronald Mickens

In Celebration of Dr. Ronald Mickens

February Photos of the Month

We’re big fans of Dr. Ronald Mickens here at Ex Libris Universum. In 2009 he donated his Ronald E. Mickens collection on African-American physicists, circa 1950-2008 to us at the Niels Bohr Library & Archives, which consists of biographical files on numerous physicists that were solicited as part of an exhibit created by the National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP), as well as part of his work writing obituaries for Physics Today. 

One of the gems of the collection is excerpts from Willie Hobbs Moore’s dissertation, the first Black woman to earn a PhD in physics in 1972, as well as other material from her student days. The Mickens Collection contains a veritable who’s who of the African American physics community, including Edward Bouchet, Elmer Imes, Walter Massey, Herbert Jones, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Shirley Ann Jackson, and Ronald McNair. Soon, this collection on the African American community will be digitized and put online for everyone to access. In the meantime we can view another Mickens Collection. Over the years, Dr. Mickens has donated many personal and professional photographs to the Emilio Segre Visual Archives, which can be viewed online. 

You may remember some of the names in his collection from our past work on the blog, including: 

Let’s dive into the photos! 

Who is Dr. Ronald Mickens? He’s a physicist and mathematician, with a specialty in nonlinear dynamics and mathematical modeling. He is currently the Fuller E. Callaway Professor of Physics at Clark Atlanta University. He was born in Virginia in 1943, attended Fisk University and received his PhD from Vanderbilt University, and worked as a postdoctoral fellow at MIT. He later returned to Fisk to teach physics and finally to Clark Atlanta University in 1982. To learn more about Ronald Mickens check out his oral history interview.

During his physics career Dr. Mickens became interested in the history of the field, especially the work of African Americans in physics. In 2002 he wrote a biography of Edward Bouchet, the first African American to earn a PhD in physics in 1876. Edward Bouchet was born in 1852 and grew up in Connecticut, attending Yale for undergraduate and graduate studies. At Yale Bouchet studied under Arthur Wright, the first American to receive a Ph.D at an American university in 1861.  Only a decade and a half later, Bouchet then became the first African American to earn a Ph.D in physics, which he did in 1876 with his dissertation on measuring refractive indices. Edward Bouchet then became only the 6th person of any race to receive a PhD in physics from an American university. Despite his achievements, due to his race, Bouchet was unable to obtain a university position. He took a teaching position at the Institute for Colored Youth (ICY), where Alfred Cope wanted to build up the science curriculum. Bouchet spent 26 years at ICY, teaching until 1902, when the school administrators, in keeping with Booker T. Washington’s approach to African American education, decided to shift the focus of the school from academic to vocational training. Bouchet moved around the country for the next few years, until he retired and moved back to Connecticut, where he died in 1918. He was buried in an unmarked grave at the Evergreen Cemetery in New Haven, Connecticut, but in 1998 Yale installed a gravestone. In this photo you can see Dr. Ronald Mickens standing next to Bouchet’s gravestone. 

This is just a great photograph of Dr. Mickens and his students outside a restaurant and it needed to be featured. If you know any more about the people in the photograph please let us know! 

In 2014, in honor of Dr. Ronald Mickens’ 70th birthday, the American Mathematical Society (AMS) published a book containing a series of papers “contributed by collaborators of, and researchers whose work was inspired by the works of Professor Mickens.” In this photo you can see Dr. Mickens holding the book, Mathematics Of Continuous and Discrete Dynamical Systems, on the “boardwalk” of Clark Atlanta University.

In 2018 Dr. Mickens was awarded the Blackwell-Tapia Prize in Providence, Rhode Island, sponsored by the National Science Foundation. “The Blackwell–Tapia Prize is awarded every two years to a mathematician who has a significant research portfolio and demonstrated interest and success in broadening the participation of underrepresented minority groups in mathematics.” In addition to his significant scientific work, Mickens was awarded the prize for his long career in shining a light on underrepresented African Americans in STEM. “He has been unearthing, celebrating and publicizing the achievements of Black scientists for more than four decades.” In this photo he is pictured with Talitha Washington, a fellow mathematician with a long record of advocating for diversity and inclusion in STEM. Just as Dr. Mickens highlighted the life and career of Edward Bouchet, Dr. Washington championed Elbert Frank Cox, the first African American to earn a PhD in mathematics. Like Dr. Washington, Cox’s hometown was Evansville, Indiana.

This photo of Anthony M. Johnson with his ultrafast laser lab is part of the Ronald E. Mickens collection on African-American physicists, circa 1950-2008. Johnson has a biographical file and photos included in the collection that will soon be available online. Dr. Johnson is currently a professor of physics, computer science, and electrical engineering at UMBC (a totally unbiased opinion here, but the best University in Maryland with the absolute best mascot) where he’s the director of the Center for Advanced Studies in Photonics Research (CASPR). In 2002 he was the first and, to this date, only African American president of Optica, formerly the Optical Society of America. In 1996 he won the APS Edward Bouchet Award "for his pioneering contributions to nonlinear optics, lasers, and optoelectronics; for his leadership in the national scientific community; and for his many efforts to attract minorities to careers in science and engineering."

Last but not least, the Mickens Collection also contains many photos of Dr. Jackson. Shirley Ann Jackson was born and raised in Washington DC and went on to attend MIT, where she received her PhD in particle physics, becoming the first African American woman to earn a doctorate at MIT in any field in 1973. She was appointed the head of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in 1995 by President Bill Clinton, becoming the first woman and first African American to be appointed. The NRC is in charge of protecting public health and safety related to nuclear energy. Dr. Jackson served as Chair from 1995-1999:

In her oral history, Dr. Jackson spoke about her international work on nuclear safety:

“So we actually worked with a number of states in Central and Eastern Europe, Ukraine among them, to help them do several things: One, in certain instances, to actually develop nuclear legislation, but also especially to develop a regulatory framework, nuclear regulations, to train regulators. We actually had inspectors from these countries come to the NRC for months at a time to learn how we went about inspecting nuclear power plants.

And then, working with them as needed to reconstruct the design basis of their plants so that they could do risk assessments to improve the safety envelope of those plants. We did a similar thing in South Africa with, again, nuclear legislation, nuclear regulations, training inspectors, and doing risk assessments. And particularly with those who were part of the ANC or post-apartheid government, because they had a disadvantage relative to the Afrikaners. And so we did a lot there. And that's work that I'm quite proud of the agency for and proud to have led.”

To get an overview of all the photos we have online from his collection, you can check out this link to a search of the Emilio Segrè Visual Archives:

About the Author

Allison Rein

Allison Rein

Allison Rein is the Associate Director of the Niels Bohr Library & Archives. She has a B.A. in history from UMBC and an MLS from the University of Maryland. She spent nearly 10 years working in libraries and archives before coming to AIP. She manages the book collection at the Niels Bohr Library & Archives and if she had to pick a favorite book in the entire collection it would be Radium Girls by Kate Moore. Her favorite thing about working at the Library (and any institution she’s ever worked) is how much she’s constantly learning. 

Caption: Maria Goeppert Mayer posing in a bat costume

See all articles by Allison Rein

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