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Influential black scientists recognised for contributions

CELEBRATING BLACK SCIENTISTS: Astronaut Mae Jemison

THE UNIVERSITY of Leicester’s physicists are marking Black History Month by profiling the most influential black and minority ethnic (BME) scientists from both history and modern times.

Throughout October, staff at the University of Leicester’s Department of Physics and Astronomy will recognise one BME scientist each day with a summary of their life and work at their campus home.

Featured men and women, whose lives and achievements will be shown on a screen in the foyer, will include mathematics pioneer Benjamin Banneker, astronaut Mae Jemison, astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, cosmologist Hiranya Peiris, and aerospace engineer Mary Jackson who's story is told in the forthcoming movie Hidden Figures.

Organisers Dr Rhaana Starling and Rosie Johnson, on behalf of the departmental equality and diversity working group, said the idea was to raise awareness of the under-representation of black and minority ethnic people in the industry, and to celebrate those who have changed the way we view the Universe and everything in it.

Dr Starling said: “Every day during the month of October we will profile one black and minority ethnic scientist in our foyer.

“We are including people from history as well as contemporary scientists.”

This year, Black History Month nationally will recognise the life and work of South African Social Rights activist Desmond Tutu, made an Honorary Doctor of Letters by the University in 2011, who marks his 85th Birthday.

One of the goals of the respected international festival is to encourage more BME students to study and remain in academia.


RECOGNISED: Mathematics pioneer Benjamin Banneker

In this respect, the University is leading the way and is above benchmark figures set out in 2002 for representation of BME students taking physics degrees.

Dr Starling said it is always a statistic that the department was aiming to improve.

She said: “Our statistics show that while 18 per cent of our physics students identified as BME or mixed race in 2015, that figure was 6 per cent for academic and research staff."

“We aim to improve upon this through activities including events to highlight role models, to address barriers to participation, expand our mentoring programmes, and constant re-evaluation of our policies and procedures, creating and maintaining an inclusive working culture.”

Since then, it has become an established annual occurrence with contributions from all walks of life, featuring more 4,000 events across the country – from schoolchildren to celebrities to leading public figures and academics.

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