Chanda Prescod Weinstein, a theoretical physicist at the University of New Hampshire, believes everyone has a right to know the universe. But sometimes there are obstacles that prevent you from having a good view of the cosmos.
âThe first step is to realize that, in fact, we don’t all have access to the same dark night sky,â Prescod-Weinstein said. Reverse. “Those of us who live in areas where the air is very polluted – the version of the night sky that we see is very confusing and not representative of what exists.”
Polluted skies are predominant in poor or marginalized areas, where the right to clean air is an afterthought. As the heavens inform us of our origin history and our place in the universe today, such disparities make it difficult for many to access.
In his first book, The messy cosmos, Prescod-Weinstein goes beyond the depths of space, exploring humanity’s place in the universe while advocating fairness and diversity in the realm that governs the study of the surrounding universe.
The book mixes the mystery of dark matter with the own experience of Prescod-Weinstein who grew up in east Los Angeles with an unwavering curiosity for the mathematics of the universe.
âIf you pick up a popular science book written by a scientist, you’ll find it’s all about telling our stories,â Prescod-Weinstein says. “I happen to have a different perspective on the aspects of our life that are shaped by science and how we have shaped science.”
How? ‘Or’ What The messy cosmos arrived at
As a child, his passion for astrophysics was ignited by a documentary by Stephen Hawking directed by Errol Morris, A brief history of time, which she watched when she was 10 years old.
âI was cool, you can get paid to do math that explains the universe all day,â Prescod-Weinstein says. âIt seemed like a really good job if you were to have a job. “
Growing up, Prescod-Weinstein questioned incidents of racism and sexism she would observe whether at school or against her single mother.
Thinking about the universe has become a sort of escape from the harsher reality of Earth and has helped her come to what she says is her book’s main message: freedom.
“I start off by talking about wanting black children to have this special positive relationship with darkness and also this ability to access the dark night sky, and the wonders and beauty of thinking about the world through the lens of particle physics. and cosmology, “Prescod- says Weinstein. “I think every chapter of the book relates in some way or another to this mission, which is freedom.”
In her book, she explains that she is a descendant of indigenous Africans forcibly evicted from their lands as a result of Western colonization. This fuels his quest to find out where we as humans belong in the universe.
âI don’t know and probably will never know for sure which Indigenous communities my ancestors came from, so the question of location remains a delicate one for me,â she writes in her book.
Entrance to the academy
Prescod-Weinstein’s interest in the universe led her to enter a field predominantly dominated by white male colleagues. She started out as an undergraduate physics student at Harvard before earning her masters at the University of California at Santa Cruz and her doctorate. at the University of Waterloo in Ontario.
When she graduated from Waterloo in 2011, she became one of less than 100 black American women to earn a doctorate. of a physics department. She would eventually work as a member of MIT and NASA Goddard and research associate at the University of Washington before her post at the University of New Hampshire.
Even though she thought she could separate her curiosity from the universe and the intimidating reality of racism, Prescod-Weinstein would soon learn that racism and sexism were very present when she discovered the universe in an academic setting – not just from leaving. of their own experiences, but to hear those of others.
This is why his exploration of the cosmos is intimately linked to a fight for social justice in his field. Prescod-Weinstein, an advocate for equality in science, received the 2017 Recognition Award of Excellence for LGBT + Physicists for his efforts to change the culture of physics to be more inclusive of marginalized people.
But Prescod-Weinstein does not want to be confined to the role of the activist because his passion for the universe persists.
“One of the challenges I am currently facing is reminding my colleagues that just because I am really good at explaining racism and sexism in science does not mean that I am not also an expert on dark matter.” , said Prescod. Weinstein said.
“His beautiful but it’s also really weird.
Prescod-Weinstein is often invited to lecture on racism and sexism in science, but admits that these often fuel the main problem.
âIt’s funny because people are like, yeah, I want to talk about diversity and inclusion, let’s invite Chanda to give a talk,â she said. “But one of your diversity issues is that when you are introduced to a black scientist, instead of giving her the opportunity to talk about science, you invite her to talk about diversity and inclusion.”
But to deal with these situations, Prescod-Weinstein found a useful solution: “Part of it is feeling comfortable being a bitch,” she says. This involves turning down invitations to conferences and educating people on how to properly deal with these issues.
Towards the end of her book, Prescod-Weinstein discusses the importance of including black feminists in the field of physics. She wants to be able to benefit from science without being weighed down by the problems of racism and sexism.
âI want people to see why I’m excited about this,â she says. “I think there’s this kind of belief in the community that the public can never understand science the way we understand science, so we have to find these ways to bring them into science.”
But Prescod-Weinstein believes that at some level scientists need to be confident that they can just show the public what science means to them. She describes her book as a tour of how her brain thinks about science.
One of the most important lessons she has learned from observing the universe is humility.
Prescod-Weinstein gives the example of the Standard Model of particle physics, a theory that describes three of the four forces known in nature: gravity, electromagnetic force, weak nuclear force, and strong nuclear force.
âIt’s beautiful, but it’s also very weird,â she said. “I think it’s such a reminder that we don’t know what’s to come, and we should always be ready for something different and be comfortable being uncomfortable.”