For a Day, Scientists Pause Science to Confront Racism

Dr. Nord, who received his Ph.D. in 2012, said that as far as he knew, he was only the third tenure track black physicist at Fermilab. The first one had retired around the time that he joined the lab and another left.

“We’re being replaced once per generation,” Dr. Nord said. In a personal statement on the Particles for Justice website, he wrote: “When I was a child, I wanted to grow up to share the beauty and gifts of a scientific understanding of the universe with the world. I’ve had the privilege to find and create knowledge for my fellow humans. I’m one of the ‘lucky’ ones. How many have shared my dream, but never got this close, because of the science community’s complicity through inaction?”

Dr. Prescod-Weinstein had a similar story. “When I was 17 and starting college, it was not my dream to balance doing dark matter research while also organizing against police and vigilante murders of black people,” she said in an email. “Like all teen particle physics and cosmology nerds, I just wanted to be a theoretical physicist.”

She and Dr. Nord said that they wanted more than just another seminar on diversity and inclusion. Rather, Dr. Nord said, the point was to “do something, join a protest.”

A notice posted on the Particles for Justice website suggested actions that scientists could undertake to educate themselves and advocate for change. “The strike is not a ‘day off’ for nonblack scientists, but a day to engage in academia’s core mission to build a better society for everyone,” it reads, in part. “Those of us who are black academics should take the day to do whatever nourishes their hearts, whether that’s protesting, organizing, or watching ‘Astronomy Club.’”

On Wednesday morning the #ShutDownStem and #Strike4BlackLives Twitter feeds were full of announcements on the suspensions of classes and research while scientists engaged in introspection and education.

Daniel Holz, an astrophysicist at the University of Chicago, said that the strike was being taken very seriously on campus, and that there were plans for an afternoon march organized by the astronomy and physics department. “The day will be full — and difficult,” he said. “Speaking for myself, I see members of our community coalescing and really trying to engage. Things have been so bleak, but this feels hopeful.”

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