Short Wave Celebrates Black Excellence In Science

Feb 28, 2020

Diversity imparts strength and resilience. That's an underlying principle of evolution — and it's equally true of the group of people who study science. A wealth of research demonstrates that having diverse people involved in STEM fields produces better results. But the latest data from the National Science Foundation shows that people of color are still underrepresented in science and engineering — as are women and people living with disabilities.

Advocates for diversity in STEM have a saying: You can't be what you can't see. We need to do a better job of celebrating the accomplishments of underrepresented scientists, so that the next generation can more easily imagine themselves joining the ranks of the scientific community.

To close out Black History Month, we wanted to take a moment to highlight just a few of the many incredible black scientists we've featured so far on the show. Their bios are below, along with links to the episodes they appear in.

On Short Wave we strive to make the diversity of our guests reflect the diversity of our audience. If there's a scientist from an underrepresented group that you know of who's doing awesome science and you think we should feature them in an episode, drop us a line at shortwave@npr.org.

Dajae "Moe" Williams

NASA/JPL-Caltech

Episode: This NASA Engineer Is Bringing Math And Science To Hip Hop

Dajae Williams, a quality engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, didn't think she was good at math as a kid. When she was transferred into a mostly white school as part of a desegregation program in third grade, she felt out of place academically and socially among students who had been attending a well-resourced school all along, and she struggled to fit in. That changed in seventh grade, when she was given an assignment to write a song about the quadratic formula. Her hip hop take on the equation was a hit among classmates, and she realized she had a special talent for conveying complex topics in music — which she employed all the way through college-level mathematics courses at Missouri University of Science and Technology. Williams says that all too often she is either the only woman, African-American, or LGBTQ person present in rooms where science and technology are occurring — and she's on a mission to change that.

Follow Williams on Twitter at @Dajae_Monae

Moriba Jah

Bret Hartman/TED

Episode: Space Junk: How Cluttered Is The Final Frontier?

Moriba Jah is a leader in the field of space traffic management — people who work to coordinate the movement of all the satellites, spent rocket bodies, debris, and other objects in space. He is an associate professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, where he also leads the ASTRIA astronautics research program. He was a 2019 TED Fellow and is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force.

Watch his TED Talk here. Follow him on twitter at @moribajah

Raychelle Burks

Chelsea Purgahn / Chelsea Purgahn/St. Edward's University

Episode: A Short Wave Guide To Good — And Bad — TV Forensics

Raychelle Burks is an analytical chemist who loves a good whodunit. Her passion for forensic chemistry was ignited by a school field trip to Washington, D.C., where she met an FBI field officer who opened her eyes to the power of applied science. Burks earned a PhD in chemistry from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is a professor of chemistry at St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas. She loves murder-mystery novels and forensic TV dramas, and she consults for TV shows to make their crime scene investigations more scientifically rigorous and true to life.

Follow her on Twitter at @DrRubidium

Jean-Jacques Muyembe

Matthieu Alexandre / AFP via Getty Images

Episode: The Congolese Doctor Who Discovered Ebola

Dr. Jean Jacques-Muyembe was the first doctor to collect a sample of the Ebola virus, back in 1976. His contributions to the discovery of the virus and its treatment have been largely under-reported in historical accounts. Today he works to ensure that contemporary African scientists receive credit for their work. Dr. Muyembe received his medical degree in 1969 and his PhD in microbiology at the Rega Institute for Medical Research in Belgium in 1973. He decided to return to his native Congo to practice medicine, rather than remain in Europe, so he could benefit "the health of my people." He currently leads the National Institute for Biomedical Research in Kinshasa.

Follow him on Twitter at @MTamfum

Ken Carter

Kay Hinton/Emory University

Episode: The Science Of Scary: Why It's So Fun To Be Freaked Out

Ken Carter studies the psychology of thrill-seeking. His most recent book is Buzz!: Inside the Minds of Thrill-Seekers, Daredevils, and Adrenaline Junkies. He has published in both academic and lay publications, translating psychology research into engaging everyday language. His articles have been published in magazines such as Psychology Today and Women's Health, and he has appeared on news programs such as NBC's Today show. He is a professor of psychology at Oxford College of Emory University. Although he studies adrenaline seekers, Carter is more likely to jump into a comfy chair with a good book than out of a plane.

Follow him on Instagram and twitter at @DrKenCarter

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.