Changing How We View the Universe: Meet The Woman Illuminating the Work of Black Women in Science

by Xara Aziz

An Ivy-league-educated cosmologist with a knack for challenging the status quo is changing the game for Black women in the field of scientific research.

In a recent Forbes feature story, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, admits that Black women have long been “overlooked and under-cited,” so she conceived a genius idea to compile a list of professional physics-related publications written by Black women with the intent to highlight them and their work.

“Part of it is saying, ‘We’re here and we’ve been making intellectual contributions,’” Prescod-Weinstein, a professor at the University of New Hampshire told Forbes. “Specifically, I want Black students to be able to find this resource and to be able to see themselves.”

Last month, she released a database called Cite Black Women+ in Physics, where scholars, researchers, academics and other science-related professionals can review the work of over 180 women and gender minorities. It is believed to be the first of its kind in that it focuses solely on the works of Black women and spans 50 years of research.

“The database could help Black women with PhDs in physics better tap into a market for U.S. startup funding that reached $216 billion in 2022,” reads the report.  “Black women received less than 1% of that pie, according to Crunchbase, and while graduate students tend to start more companies and raise more money than undergraduates, women represent only a small slice of that population.”

Another groundbreaker in the field of science, Jami Valentine Miller says Prescod-Weinstein’s newly formed database will be a game changer for women of color in the industry. Miller, the first Black woman to earn a PhD in physics from Johns Hopkins University and founder of the African American Women in Physics group, said that “being able to verify and see that track record of research, I think, will help people have a stronger package when they’re seeking venture capital.”

She added: “Most PhD physicists end up going into business or government jobs and not academia. Even for those who don’t start their own companies, the database could help them get discovered by companies that are looking for diverse talent. “Often, we hear that employers and search committees can’t find qualified candidates,” Miller said. “This database will help to alleviate that issue because it will now be much easier to find more diverse candidates based on their publication records.”

Prescod-Weinstein says her momentous project is just beginning, but she hopes the database will give researchers an all-inclusive view of how research conducted by Black women can change the perspective of how the universe works.

“We all come to physics because we’re enthralled by the beauty of the universe and the physical laws, and then there are these social elements that are just grotesque,” Prescod-Weinstein said. “And I think that looking at the story of Black women in physics gives you a holistic look at both of those pieces in a dynamical relationship with each other.”

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