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Christine Nattrass | USLHC | USA

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Some tough problems to solve

Given that today is Martin Luther King Day it seems like a good time to reflect on the under-representation of African Americans in physics.  This is a chart showing the number of African Americans who earned PhDs in physics in the US:

African Americans earn approximately 2% of PhDs in physics earned by US citizens in the US.  You can find more statistics on African Americans in physics here.  African Americans are about 12% of the US population.  Clearly something is wrong here.

I am not the right person to talk about what it is like to be a black physicist.  I can’t tell you what it feels like because I’m white.  Even though I’m not the ideal person to talk about this, someone has to say something because the problem is huge.  It is too big to ignore.  There are only 56 African American women with PhDs in physics.  I only know two black physicists in heavy ion physics, neither of them are originally from the US, and one is still a graduate student.  We have to do something because it threatens the viability of scientific research.  We are not recruiting the best and the brightest to the field.

This is a really complicated problem and I don’t have a solution.  Changing this – inspiring young black girls and boys to pursue careers in science and technology – will not be easy.  But we have to try.

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