MAR 01, 2022 12:00 PM PST

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein: Theoretical Physicist and Feminist Theorist

WRITTEN BY: Hannah Daniel

When Chanda Prescod-Weinstein earned her Ph.D. from the University of Waterloo (Canada), she became the 54th Black American woman ever to earn a P.h. D. from a department of physics.

Dr. Prescod-Weinstein is an assistant professor of Physics and core faculty member in Women and Gender Studies at the University of New Hampshire. She has also received a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Postdoctoral fellowship from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a research associate position in the High Energy Theory Group of the Department of Physics at the University of Washington. She was also a part of the NASA postdoctoral program fellowship at the Goddard Flight Space Center.

Images from Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, Ph.D.

“Today, I am a nonlinear combination of theoretical particle physicist, particle cosmology theorist, theoretical cosmologist, and particle astrophysicist,” she explains in a short biography.

Dr. Prescod-Weinstein studies axions, theoretical particles that are a probable candidate for dark matter. Dark matter is an elusive type of matter we have yet to encounter but seems to account for the discrepancies within our understanding of the universe, and axions are theoretical particles that are predicted to “answer” the charge-parity problem of the Standard Model of particle physics.

In 1977, researchers  Helen Quinn and Roberto Pecci proposed the solution of a currently unknown field that would imply the existence of a new particle called an “axion.” Axions don’t have any quantum mechanical spin and have very little mass (almost zero).

In this theory, axions would make up a lot of the universe, so much so that they might even account for dark matter—thus making them a good candidate for dark matter. Dr. Prescod-Weinstein’s recent studies focus on whether axions can form masses that can act like a single particle, an exotic matter phase called a Bose-Einstein condensate. Understanding this function of axions has implications for how the universe was formed.

Dr. Prescod-Weisntein’s identity will always be central to her work and studies. She is a citizen of Barbados and the United States and a proud decedent of Afro-Caribbean and Jewish immigrants.

“Because science is a human endeavor, I am constantly working to ensure that everyone has an equitable opportunity to participate,” Prescod-Weinstein writes on her website.

She is a committee chair of the National Society of Black Physicists (as well as holding other executive roles in the past). She is an active member of the National Society of Hispanic Physicists and Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in the Sciences.

She is a founding member of the American Astronomical Society Committee for Sexual Orientation and Gender Minorities in Astronomy. She has used her religion to support peace and justice as a member of the Jewish Voice for Peace Academic Advisory Council.

Last year, Dr. Prescod-Weinstein published her book The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, & Dreams Deferred. The book is a stunning look at theoretical physics, but it’s also a deep dive into Prescod-Weinstein’s understanding of the universe. It’s how she, as a self-described queer, agender Black woman, learned to approach science from a young age.

Her book delves into her life’s research: astrophysics and particle physics while weaving in Black feminist thought and anti-colonial theory. The story is not just about the physics but the physicists themselves, how the discipline was built, and who was left out of its genesis.

Dr. Prescod-Weinstein also publishes writing on the website Medium and in her subscription newsletter.

Sources: CNN, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, Scientific American

About the Author
BS Biology
Hannah Daniel (she/they) is a recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, where she received a Bachelor of Science in Biology with an additional minor in Creative Writing. Currently, she works as a reporter for Informa Intelligence's Health, Beauty, and Wellness publication, a business newsletter detailing the latest innovations and regulations in the OTC drug and supplement worlds.
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