Earlier in February, in honor of Black History Month, three university researchers were named to a list of the “100 Inspirational Black Scientists in America” published by CellPress – the publisher of renowned research journals like Cell – via his CrossTalk blog.
With additional contributions from distinguished faculty members from across the country, Antentor O. Hinton Jr., postdoctoral fellow at the University of Iowa; Zer Vue, postdoctoral researcher at the University of California at San Francisco; and Haysetta Shuler of Winston-Salem State University listed the scientists. The list is divided into two groups: 75 “established investigators” and 25 “rising stars”. To select the winners, the CrossTalk team chose black researchers who were not only accomplished scientists, but who were also dedicated to mentoring and advocating for diversity.
Andrew Campbell: Prioritizing neglected diseases
Andrew Campbell, Professor of Medical Sciences and Dean of the Graduate School, was one of the University researchers featured as an established researcher in the CrossTalk article. The goal of Campbell’s research is “to study and understand what are probably best described as neglected diseases of neglected populations.” These include diseases affecting people in areas such as sub-Saharan Africa, ”Campbell wrote in an email to the Herald.
Campbell was inspired to continue this research because of his “concern for those who face daily burdens caused by diseases that too few people prioritize or deem important enough to be eradicated or controlled.”
“Removing the barriers and challenges faced by marginalized, underrepresented and underserved people is important to me. I see diversity work as work that creates and restores opportunities and access, ”he added. “Being a person of color in science adds responsibilities that are not shared with others. With these additional responsibilities come additional expectations which are real challenges. The same goes for women in science.
Campbell specifically referred to George Washington Carver and Ernest Everett as the black scientists who inspired him, but both predated his time. “The availability of the 100 list indicates that young black scientists today can find inspiration in individuals who are their generational contemporaries; They can pick up the phone, send an email, and connect with the people who inspire them.
Campbell encouraged the students to contact the featured researchers and others whose work they admire. “I personally know a lot of people… on the list and I know they would love to hear from the students and would definitely be receptive,” said Campbell.
Stephon Alexander: Developing Einstein
Another academic researcher presented as a well-established researcher is Stephon Alexander PhD’00, professor of physics and affiliate faculty of Africana studies. As a theoretical physicist, Alexander tries to understand what happened to the universe before the Big Bang. Alexander and his team use techniques such as machine learning to understand the nature of dark matter and dark energy, two complex and invisible entities.
In a recently published article with collaborators in Italy, Alexander provided a theory that altered Einstein’s general theory of relativity in a step towards understanding dark energy. Alexander’s article was published in the Physical Review, a leading physics journal in which Einstein himself published his theory in 1935.
Einstein’s general theory of relativity guides models in our daily lives. For example, the theory is used in GPS. “What Einstein’s theory doesn’t explain is dark energy in the universe,” so the researchers changed the equations that make up the theory to better understand dark energy, Alexander added.
Alexander also applied his expertise in physics and music in teaching the course PHYS 0150: “The Jazz of Modern Physics”. He believes that science comes from the same place as artistic and musical creativity.
Despite his successes in the field, when Alexander was a postdoctoral researcher he did not feel accepted by some of his peers. “There was a time… no one wanted to talk to me… People thought I had entered (into the institution) because of the affirmative action. I was really broken by it, but I had to move on. But because Alexander was “passionate about and understood the world through the lens of physics,… (his) curiosity overcame messages from society that people like (himself) cannot do physics too.
“It’s nice to be recognized,” said Alexander, referring to CrossTalk’s list, but added that “real recognition is to (fulfill) my dreams of solving a major problem in physics, and I don’t ‘m not there yet “.
Alexander advises other scientists of color to follow their passions, take control of their education, and seek mentors. “We should get a feel for the fact that there are a lot of people who have come before who haven’t had this opportunity. We should never take this for granted.
Arif Hamid: Investigating Decision Making
Howard Hughes Medical Institute Postdoctoral Fellow and Hanna Gray Fellow Arif Hamid has been named one of the 25 Rising Stars.
Hamid’s research focuses on the neural basis of decision making and its clinical consequences and its application in computer science. He studies decision making in the brain over many time scales. The larger timescales include lifetime goals while the smaller ones include faster decisions, like choosing to pick up a pen. Hamid is particularly interested in how these timescales are connected and which areas of the brain facilitate this process. Dopamine, a chemical messenger in the brain, is a factor in part responsible for this connection. Too much dopamine in a specific region of the brain can have clinical effects, such as addiction and schizophrenia.
In a recent project, Hamid measured regions of the brain containing large amounts of dopamine and examined the effects this had on decision making at different time scales. His work led him to discover that the activity of dopamine, which is determined from the activation of regions of the brain, occurs in the form of wave patterns, or waves of dopamine. Its next goal is to further study what wave models imply regarding the behavior and function of neural circuits.
As a Howard Hughes Medicine Fellow, Hamid works with other fellows and scientists to facilitate training and networking opportunities with senior scientists. In the potentially unstructured postdoctoral process, “mentoring becomes (particularly) important. Making sure you are successful is not trivial, ”he said.
Hamid considers himself lucky because of the support he received from his mentors. “Part of being successful is feeling like you belong and that your opinions matter and that you are a valued part of the community… Getting advice on how to be successful can become difficult if you already feel isolated. “
“I feel very humbled” to be on the list, added Hamid. “I’m in the rising star category so I hope I can live up to that.”
Hamid had interacted with some of the other scientists on the list via the Hughes Fellowship and said, “You kind of see yourself in them and recognize that you can also pursue whatever you want, and I think that’s a really message. powerful to have. “
To publicize the distinction, the organizers of the list reached out to science influencers on Twitter with major platforms, asking them to retweet the list. “We hope to disseminate the award… by showing (minority scientists) that they’re not the only scientists like them,” Hinton said.
With media attention following that list, CellPress agreed to create an article on European Black History Month in October and an equivalent list of scientists for Hispanic Heritage Month, he added.
“Having diversity in STEM is a blessing that shouldn’t be seen as cumbersome,” Hinton said. “Everyone should be an advocate for diversity. “