Joseph A. Prize Johnson Awarded to Professor Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
WASHINGTON, November 9, 2022 – The AIP and the National Society of Black Physicists award Trevor Rohn the Joseph A.
Now in its third year, the award is given to early-career scientists who demonstrate scholarly prowess, mentorship, and strong service – the core values of NSBP founder Joseph A. Johnson.
“Since its inception, this award has seen high-quality candidates across the board,” said Michael Moloney, CEO of AIP. “This year was just as true as anyone else.” “We are pleased to acknowledge Dr. Ron and Dr. Bester for their exceptional knowledge and dedication to serving their students. Their contributions to the physical science community exemplify the legacy of Dr. Joseph A. Johnson.”
Ron, an assistant professor at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), is researching new 2D magnetic materials using a combination of computer simulation and artificial intelligence. Some estimates put the number of potential candidates at 10 to the 100th — roughly the same number of atoms in the observable universe. Instead of relying on slow and arduous experiments to find a material with desirable properties, Rune uses artificial intelligence as a guide to speed up material discovery.
“When you’re at home, and you want to find a recipe for baking a cake, you might ask Alexa,” he said. “Alexa finds a recipe and tells you what ingredients you need and how to make them. Maybe one day, we’ll order a recipe equivalent to ‘Atom-a’ to make the next generation of hard drives for storing data.”
Ron grew up in Jamaica, and learned the importance of a good education. He earned his undergraduate degree at Macalester College, then his Ph.D. from Columbia University for experimental studies of two-dimensional electron systems. He moved to Materials Informatics research while at the National Institute of Materials Science in Japan and as a Postdoctoral Fellow for Future College Leaders at Harvard University before becoming an assistant professor at RPI.
In RPI’s Department of Physics, Ron co-founded the DEI Committee, which actively promotes equality and inclusion in the classroom. This work follows a history of mentoring underrepresented minority students, giving physics presentations to high school students, and volunteering with the NSBP.
Ron says that many guides supported and encouraged him throughout his journey, but that his father was the most influential of all.
“He would tell me stories of how he affected the lives of others. There is a story where he, a playwright, encouraged someone to pursue theater, his lifelong passion, despite the danger of great hardships. My parents gave people the courage to follow their dreams and helped them find Happiness in doing so, Ron said. “Guiding, educating, and supporting the physics community I feel helps me honor the memory of my father. This award is a nice reminder of what’s important and motivates me to do more.”
“Dr. Ron and Dr. Bester are advancing the physical sciences in many ways,” said Hakim Olusi, president of the National Society of Black Physicists. “Their research is innovative and cutting-edge. At the same time, their focus on mentoring and community building is inspiring.”
Bester, assistant professor at Swarthmore College, studies granular materials, a subfield of soft matter.
“It’s easy to describe individual grains, like sand, coffee, and rice,” she said. “But if you have thousands, or even millions of those pills, that becomes very difficult. That’s because collectively, the pills can behave as a solid in some cases, or as a liquid in others.”
In her lab, Bester conducts jamming and creep experiments. Undergraduates play a major role, restricting grains and studying the liquid-to-solid transition and linking these ideas to geological archeology.
She hopes to give her students the same experiences she had as a young researcher. At Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, Bester was the only student in an introductory physics class taught by Stephen McGuire, former NSBP president.
“It was so scary,” she said. “I had to answer every question.” “It was really scary at first, but I enjoyed the interest. Not only did we do the required curriculum, but I learned what current physics research looks like.”
From there, Bester took part in an undergraduate research experiment at the University of Chicago, where she studied droplet spraying. She pursued the same research path in Chicago for her Ph.D., then worked as a postdoctoral research assistant at Duke University before becoming an assistant professor at Swarthmore College.
“It feels really great to get to the point where my work is being recognized in this way,” Bester said. “It means a lot to me, especially to be recognized by the people I’ve admired for a long time: the leaders of the National Society of Black Physicists and the American Institute of Physics.”
The award and honorary recognition will be presented at the 2022 National Black Physics Society Conference on November 9 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
About the Joseph A. Prize. Johnson III of Excellence
It was Joseph A. Johnson III, of Florida A&M University, is a pioneering and renowned experimental physicist, mentor of many black doctoral students and founder of the National Society of Black Physicists. In honor of his iconic legacy, the American Institute of Physics and NSBP have partnered to recognize an NSBP physicist who exemplifies Johnson’s ingenuity as a scientist and a passion for mentorship and service. This honor comes with an award of $5,000 as well as an invitation to present seminars for the Physics Department at partner universities.
Founded in 1977 at Morgan State University, the mission of the National Society of Black Physicists is to promote the professional well-being of African American physicists and students of physics within the international scientific community and within society at large. The organization seeks to develop and support efforts to increase opportunities for African Americans in physics, increase their numbers, and highlight their scientific work. It also seeks to develop activities and programs that highlight and enhance the benefits of the scientific contributions that African American physicists make to the international community. The community strives to raise the level of general knowledge and appreciation of physics in the African American community.
The mission of the American Institute of Physics (AIP) is to advance, advance, and serve the physical sciences for the benefit of humanity. AIP is a consortium that advances the success of our ten member societies and an institute that serves as a center of excellence supporting the Physical Sciences Project. In its role as an institution, AIP uses policy analysis, social sciences, and historical research to advance future advances in the physical sciences. AIP is a 501(c)(3) membership institution of scholarly societies.
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