Post Classifieds

An African-American Academic Star!

By Janean L. Watkins
On February 21, 2011

Astrophysics is defined as an area of science which applies physical laws discovered on Earth to phenomena throughout the cosmos. Originated by Sir Isaac Newton, the father of physics, this area of Science has been the way in which many meaningful discoveries were made regarding astronomical science. Dr. Beth A. Brown is one African-American woman whose contributions to Astrophysics are ones for this history books.

Beth Brown started her life with loving parents, a younger brother, and her cousin in beautiful Roanoke, VA. She was always a studious student who enjoyed the wonder of Science. In high school, she was a high achiever and was challenged with Advanced Placement courses.

It was here where her participation in science fairs and research into all facets of Science were truly nurtured. Despite her love for science, it was neither in elementary, nor high school where she honed her love for Astronomy. Her love affair with the universe was mostly fantasy/fiction based in her younger years. She was an avid Star Wars, and Star Trek fan, and loved watching shows and movies about space.

Dr. Brown found her passion in Astrophysics as a student at Howard University, in Washington, D.C. Under the tutelage of her very caring academic mentor – Dr. Brown honed her skills in Astrophysics and learned how to ask relevant questions in regards to her research. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa Suma Cum Laude, and paved a well etched road of achievement for young African American women who might showcase an interest or aptitude in Science.

At one point during her stint at Howard, she considered pursuing her degree and going on to be an astronaut. After researching the information necessary to be an astronaut with NASA as prescribed by her professor, she found out that she would be denied access to the Astronaut Training program because she did not meet the eyesight requirements. Despite this disappointment, she went on to become the first African American woman in Astrophysics to be employed outside of academia.

"Beth was always a good student, my husband and I never had to encourage her to do her homework", says her mother, Frances Brown. All of the individuals who were interviewed for her memorial video speak highly of her personality; citing that she was a personable woman who truly cared about the people around her. Many people spoke of her positive influence on their lives, and touted her beauty and intellect.

Her caring spirit also showed through in her service. Aside from being a regular contributor to empowering and inspiring women of color as a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated, Dr. Brown combined her love for academia and service through her chartered program, Multiwavelength Milky Way Project. "She always felt a requirement and responsibility to give back in whatever capacity she could," says colleague Eric Holmes, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

With this outreach project, a site was created that gives young students multiple views of our galaxy – the Milky Way – and provides access to online images of the Milky Way at ten wavelength regions.

The site also provides product resources, an examination section, activities, and lesson plans for educators. Sections of the website include: The Nature of Light, Mapping the Sky, and Our Galaxy – The Milky Way.

Dr. James Lindesay, Professor of Physics at Howard University, and Dr. Brown's mentor – spoke of the project that she was working on at the point of her untimely death. He says, "the initiation of the black hole singularity [all matter that forms a black hole must ultimately be crushed into an infinitely tiny and dense point in the black holes center] expands the conformal space – time in a certain way so that the cosmology opens up in order to accommodate this new thing called a black hole."

Of the research, Dr. Lindesay says, "It's a breakthrough that will help us understand the fundamentals of how quantum mechanics and gravitation will ultimately be put together." According to NEIU Physical Science professor, Mahmoud. Khalili's prescribed text, "the two different theories – Einstein's Theory of Relativity and the theory of Quantum Physics – are too dissimilar and cancel each other out." Dr. Brown was attempting to showcase how these two theories each help each other to explain the singularities.

The paper entitled, "Causal Structures of Dynamic Black Holes", written by Dr. Brown and published post-mortem by Dr. James Lindesay, begins with an abstract that reads, "Dynamic space-times, especially those manifesting horizons, provide useful laboratories for examining how macroscopic quantum behaviors consistently co-generate gravitational phenomena." It is apparent that her research was shaping up to be pretty important, and could have answered the question about the clearly different claims.

All in all, this woman has made many contributions to the world of physics. Regarding Dr. Brown's death – Dr. Peter Delfyett, President of the National Society of Black Physicists says, "Beth is a Blue Dwarf star" which means, that she shined brightly in her short lived life. Not all of her contributions were noble prize worthy – but she did her part to inspire youth of color.

On the NASA Quest, Meet the Inspirational Women of NASA website, Dr. Brown closes by writing,

"I still like science, because I am still curious about how something works and why something exists. Space continues to fascinate me. I love my job because I get to work on several different things, and there's always something new being discovered! I continue to participate in various conferences such as the American Astronomical Society (AAS) meetings and the National Society of Black Physicists (I served for two years as the Administrative Executive Officer for NSBP). I have also been involved with the National Conference of Black Physics Students (NCBPS) for many years. Sometimes (as with any job) things can get frustrating. But I surround myself with supportive friends and family who help me to get through the tough times. And I also maintain a life outside of work, which keeps me balanced."

These words of inspiration, wisdom and humor are a great springboard for any student – of any discipline. Dr. Beth A. Brown is still inspiring others – even after she is no longer with us.

Get Top Stories Delivered Weekly

Recent neiuindependent News Articles

Discuss This Article



Log In

or Create an account

Employers & Housing Providers

Employers can list job opportunities for students

Post a Job

Housing Providers can list available housing

Post Housing

Log In

Forgot your password?

Your new password has been sent to your email!

Logout Successful!

Please Select Your College/University:

You just missed it! This listing has been filled.

Post your own housing listing on Uloop and have students reach out to you!

Upload An Image

Please select an image to upload
Note: must be in .png, .gif or .jpg format
Provide URL where image can be downloaded
Note: must be in .png, .gif or .jpg format