Public Thinker: Chanda Prescod-Weinstein Looks to the Night Sky

Posted in Articles, Interviews, Media Archive on 2021-03-11 00:49Z by Steven

Public Thinker: Chanda Prescod-Weinstein Looks to the Night Sky

Public Thinker
Public Books

Katherine McKittrick, Professor in Gender Studies and the Graduate Program in Cultural Studies
Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada

Thinking in public demands knowledge, eloquence, and courage. In this interview series, we hear from public scholars about how they found their path and how they communicate to a wide audience.

My notes on The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred, by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, began on small paper squares that were about 10.5 x 10.5 cm. The paper squares allowed me to take fairly concise notes on key themes raised in the book; because of the size of the squares, I could reposition them as I read, which meant the themes were moveable and could change according to the time and place of my reading.

Partway through the book, I moved to lined three-ring paper, because the 10.5 x 10.5 cm thematic organization was stifling. I was losing my way. Thematic categorization—here is spacetime; here is melanin; here is Black feminism; here is, here are, phase(s); here is the one equation; here is diaspora and computing and song and nuclear physics and night sky—delimited the expansive intellectual work Prescod-Weinstein puts forth in this text. The lined three-ring paper offered more space; I was able to write out exact quotations at length and also write out ideas in my own words, mostly thinking about how to imagine the planet through curves and bendability.

Disordered Cosmos is a series of stories (cosmologies) and geometries and temperature variants and rapid expansions; these cosmologies, geometries, temperatures, and expansions are underpinned by racial-sexual violence, punitive evaluation metrics, the living memory of slavery, love, work. Particles, I think, hold everything together.

In her book, Prescod-Weinstein illuminated what I did not know and what I cannot know, and sharpened where I know from; she also showed me that the discipline of physics, and her work as a Black feminist physicist who studies quantum-gravity worlds, can forge meaningful interhuman and interecological and interstellar collaborations.

The kind of collaboration she offers is wide-ranging and painful and expressed through interdisciplinary promise. This is a book about how particle interactions are animated by the plantation. It is a book about how the racist contours of scientific knowledge provide the conditions that enable us to hold on to, and study, the liberatory inventions of Black scientists. It is a book that thinks about how wages and work and Blackness and identificatory politics and physics are entangled, and how this entanglement might, and can, reorient how we care for the planet and for each other. I am out of my depths.

In fall 2020, I had the chance to talk with Prescod-Weinstein about my book, Dear Science, and she gave me all kinds of space and time and energy so that I could share some of my ideas. I read Disordered Cosmos shortly afterward, and she agreed to continue our conversation—this time, with quarks and light dimensions and future-energy-distribution mechanisms, and the Blackness of it all, in mind…

Read the entire interview here.

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The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred

Posted in Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Philosophy, Politics/Public Policy, Social Justice on 2021-03-11 00:15Z by Steven

The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred

Bold Type Books (an imprint of the Hachette Book Group)
336 pages
Hardcover ISBN-13: 9781541724709
eBook ISBN-13: 9781541724693
Audiobook ISBN-13: 9781549133961

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy; Core faculty in Women’s and Gender Studies
University of New Hampshire

From a star theoretical physicist, a journey into the world of particle physics and the cosmos — and a call for a more just practice of science.

In The Disordered Cosmos, Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein shares her love for physics, from the Standard Model of Particle Physics and what lies beyond it, to the physics of melanin in skin, to the latest theories of dark matter — all with a new spin informed by history, politics, and the wisdom of Star Trek.

One of the leading physicists of her generation, Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein is also one of fewer than one hundred Black American women to earn a PhD from a department of physics. Her vision of the cosmos is vibrant, buoyantly non-traditional, and grounded in Black feminist traditions.

Prescod-Weinstein urges us to recognize how science, like most fields, is rife with racism, sexism, and other dehumanizing systems. She lays out a bold new approach to science and society that begins with the belief that we all have a fundamental right to know and love the night sky. The Disordered Cosmos dreams into existence a world that allows everyone to experience and understand the wonders of the universe.

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Public Thinker: Chanda Prescod-Weinstein on Dark Matter and White Empiricism

Posted in Articles, Interviews, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2019-09-18 18:59Z by Steven

Public Thinker: Chanda Prescod-Weinstein on Dark Matter and White Empiricism

Public Books

Lawrence Ware, Co-director of the Africana Studies Program; Teaching Assistant Professor and Diversity Coordinator in the Department of Philosophy
Oklahoma State University

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein. Photograph by Lisa Longstaff

Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein is one of fewer than a hundred Black American women to earn a PhD from a department of physics. Being part of an all too rare group has given her a glimpse into the way the world of physics works—through not just equations and experiments but also human social interactions. The child of grassroots political organizers, Prescod-Weinstein is a theoretical physicist and a self-taught Black feminist philosopher and scholar of science, technology, and society studies. She is also vocal about social problems within science and the way science contributes to problems in the larger world. I caught up with Dr. Chanda, as she is known to many on Twitter (@IBJIYONGI), via Skype, and what follows is a discussion that goes from dark matter to how whiteness operates in physics.

Lawrence Ware (LW): Can I ask you to explain to me, almost like I’m an eight-year-old, what you do?

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein (CP): I think about the origin of spacetime and the origin of everything inside of spacetime. It’s the question of how we get from the beginning of the universe to us sitting in the rooms that we are sitting in now. How do we get from point A to point B? And does the universe even have a beginning? What happened at the very beginning?

LW: But I am still very confused about what you do. Help me understand.

CP: I just do math all day.

LW: How do you bring your interest in race and gender into conversation with what you do with physics, then?

CP: When I was 10 years old, I began getting really excited about theoretical physics. And I was really excited about doing theoretical physics specifically because I thought it would get me away from human problems. My parents were both activists; I spent my entire childhood hearing about the ways the world is messed up. I think I saw theoretical physics as an exit from having to worry about the human condition.

Then, when I was in high school, I became aware that I might stand out in my classes, because my background was a little bit different from that of the typical physicist. I was aware that there weren’t a lot of Black women in physics. I had never heard of one. This generation might have a very different experience now, because of Hidden Figures, but there was nothing like that when I was in high school.

So I thought I would just stand out, but I didn’t really think much of it. I had no intention to go into college thinking about race or gender or anything like that. And then I started experiencing racism and sexism in physics environments and started trying to make sense of it. That was how it started to come together…

Read the entire interview here.

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How this theoretical physicist is advocating for women of colour in STEM

Posted in Articles, Gay & Lesbian, Interviews, Media Archive, Videos, Women on 2019-07-11 19:17Z by Steven

How this theoretical physicist is advocating for women of colour in STEM

Toronto, Canada

Carla Lucchetta

Nam Kiwanuka and Chanda Prescod-Weinstein
Nam Kiwanuka interviews theoretical physicist Chanda Prescod-Weinstein

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein talks to The Agenda in the Summer about her identity as a queer Black woman, the importance of mentorship, and why advocacy is a vital component of her work

What makes a person dream of becoming a theoretical physicist? In Chanda Prescod-Weinstein’s case, it was growing up with activist parents. Her mother, Margaret Prescod, has headed up various advocacy groups, including International Black Women for Wages for Housework, and is the host and producer of Sojourner Truth, a public-affairs radio show in Los Angeles. Her father, Sam Weinstein, is a labour organizer.

As she tells Nam Kiwanuka on The Agenda in the Summer, “I spent my entire childhood being confronted with things that weren’t going right in the world and things that needed to be better about the world. And I think part of what was attractive to me about doing cosmology and particle physics was here was a thing that was beyond these human concerns … something that was bigger than all of us but interested all of us. Where do we come from: Why are we here? These really big esoteric questions.”

a couple and their child
Chanda at age four with her parents Sam Weinstein and Margaret Prescod
​​​​​​​(Los Angeles Times/

Now a physics professor at the University of New Hampshire, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein has conducted research on such topics as axions, dark matter, and quantum fields. She’s also an advocate for Black women, and LGBTQ people in STEM

Read the entire article here.

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Hidden Figures is a Black, not white, Women’s Story

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2018-06-30 03:02Z by Steven

Hidden Figures is a Black, not white, Women’s Story


Chanda Prescod-Weinstein

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden presents an award to Katherine Johnson, the African American mathematician, physicist, and space scientist, who calculated flight trajectories for John Glenn’s first orbital flight in 1962, at a reception to honor members of the segregated West Area Computers division of Langley Research Center on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016, at the Virginia Air and Space Center in Hampton, VA. Afterward, the guests attended a premiere of “Hidden Figures” a film which stars Taraji P. Henson as Katherine Johnson, Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan, and Janelle Monae as Mary Jackson. (image: a brown skinned man in a suit handing a plaque to a brown skinned woman in a wheelchair with a brown skinned woman standing behind the wheelchair.)
NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

It’s important to know the difference between “marginalized” and “hidden”

These remarks were made in my role as respondent to a paper on the (white) women students of (white woman) astronomer Maria Mitchell at the 2017 Society of History of Technology meeting. They were well received by the person whose work I was commentating on.

I will respond by offering a history of my own knowledge of women in astronomy. My interest in the Hidden Figures has been strongly shaped by my own experiences as a Black woman working at the intersection of physics and astrophysics. As an undergraduate at Harvard in the early 2000s, I was aware of the white women who had acted as computers for the Harvard College Observatory — this was history that astronomy undergraduates were privy to and that someone (I don’t remember who) took some effort to ensure that at the least women undergraduates learned about. The idea that their history or role was hidden, for this reason, has always seemed jarring to me. They were not hidden to us even as we recognized that more broadly they were a site of disinterest for many, but it was always made clear to me as an undergraduate that while their opportunities were limited, white women astronomers had been part of early American astronomy and that they had played a significant role in my own sub field, cosmology. (As in, without Harvard Computer Henrietta Leavitt’s discovery of the cepheid variable luminosity relation, Hubble could not have discovered the expansion of the universe. Of course, I didn’t learn until much later that Leavitt was a deaf adult, and it is interesting what parts of her story were left out.)…

Read the entire article here.

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I Owe Black Canada

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Canada, Media Archive on 2017-03-11 04:02Z by Steven

I Owe Black Canada


Chanda Prescod-Weinstein

Nova Scotia on the drive from Halifax to Peggy’s Cove, 2010. Formerly enslaved Black people from the American colonies were promised that they could farm this land in Canada if they fought for the British during the Revolution. (source: me) [image: rocky terrain with Atlantic Ocean in the background, lots of moss and short pine-looking bush-trees]

Coming to understand the real but not real border

In a move that many told me was a major professional mistake, I dropped out of one of the best astronomy PhD programs in the United States to pursue research at the relatively new Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, switching to the PhD program at University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. I had never heard of Waterloo, although I’ve come to understand that in math and engineering circles, it’s kind of a BFD, with the largest mathematics faculty in North America (multiple math departments!), and the most extensive engineering co-op program in North America.

Being one of about 10 Black grad students across all departments at UC Santa Cruz, it didn’t cross my mind to be picky about how many Black students there were at Waterloo. It also didn’t occur to me that it would take a rather traumatizing search before I could find anyone who could actually cut my hair without asking me stupid questions like, “Can you put a comb in that?”

I didn’t know Canada, although I thought I did. Here’s what I knew about Canada: that it was like the US but people said “sore-ry” instead of “sawry,” that people sometimes mistook my Los Angeles-British colonial accent for a Canadian one, that some of my cousins on the Barbados side lived north of Toronto, that it was the end of the underground railroad, that they had single-payer health care, that as a child I had to watch Canadian TV to see the diversity that reflected my real life, and that overall this all meant they were more civilized than the US. In other words, I believed what I would now call the Canadian national myth, rather strongly…

…Hanging out in the other bookstore in Waterloo, I found out that the author, Lawrence Hill, would be doing an event with Afua Cooper, who had just published another book, I picked up, The Hanging of Angelique. Cooper’s book was about the Black enslaved woman who burned Montreal down (well, we think anyway). I made a note to show up at their event come hell or high water.

Hill, a light skinned Black man whose white American mother and Black American father had come to Canada when his father got into the University of Toronto for grad school, talked about discovering the hidden Canadian history of the Black Loyalists, as they are known. Cooper, a dark skinned Black woman and an established poet in addition to historian, talked about uncovering the often ignored and hidden history of Canada’s own horrible past with slavery…

Read the entire article here.

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Black Semitic Girl Reader At The Airport

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Media Archive, Social Justice, United States on 2017-02-08 21:14Z by Steven

Black Semitic Girl Reader At The Airport

2017-02-07, 21:00 PST (Local Time)

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, Theoretical Astro|Physicist

Where books become bombs

Seattle International Airport—Just spent 20 minutes being physically searched at Seattle airport, body searched, and at one point being spoken to and surrounded by seven — yes seven — TSA agents while being informed my backpack had bomb making materials in it. A few thoughts:

  1. My bag was flagged at the X-ray machine because I had too many books in my bag.
  2. Then the chemical testing machine told them that there were bomb making materials in my bag. Remember, they were only looking because I had “too many” books
  3. Then a second machine told them that my 2014 model MacBook Pro had extra bomb making materials on it.
  4. They checked my hair, my breasts, and between my legs.
  5. Then they told me they would have to do it again…

Read the entire article here.

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A Black Female Astrophysicist Explains Why Hidden Figures Isn’t Just About History

Posted in Articles, Interviews, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2017-01-19 01:09Z by Steven

A Black Female Astrophysicist Explains Why Hidden Figures Isn’t Just About History


Rae Paoletta

Taraji P. Henson as Katherine Johnson in Hidden FiguresImage: 20th Century Fox/YouTube

First, it beat Star Wars: Rogue One. Now, for the second weekend since its wide-release debut, Hidden Figures—the true story of three black female mathematicians at NASA—is number one at the box office. It’s raked in roughly $6o million so far, and counting.

The inspiring story of Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan has reenergized the ongoing conversation about the importance of inclusivity in STEM. Though we’ve long done away with the Jim Crow laws depicted in Hidden Figures, black women in are still notoriously underrepresented in mathematical sciences, including physics. A quick look at the numbers proves it: between 1973 and 2012, 22,172 white men received PhDs in physics. Only 66 black women did.

Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein was one of those women.

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein Image Credit: GR21 LOC

In 2010, Prescod-Weinstein became the 63rd black American woman to ever earn a PhD in physics, from the Perimeter Institute at the University of Waterloo in Canada. Now, as a theoretical astrophysicist who’s worked at MIT and, more recently, the University of Washington, she is an advocate for black women and non-binary people in STEM…

Read the entire interview here.

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The Physics of Melanin: Science and the Chaotic Social Construct of Race

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Slavery, Social Science, United States on 2016-12-20 02:10Z by Steven

The Physics of Melanin: Science and the Chaotic Social Construct of Race

Bitch Media

Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, Research Associate
Department of Physics
University of Washington, Seattle

It could have been earwax. It turns out that the texture of a person’s earwax is not determined by environment but rather is written into a person’s genetic code. Some of us have hard, dry earwax, some of us have goopy earwax, and some of us have a combination. Thus, 500 years ago when it seemed useful to Europeans to start organizing people by skin color, they could have gone by earwax instead. Had they, for some reason or another, been fascinated by earwax, chattel slavery might have been organized around whoever had the earwax that was deemed less valuable. Race might have been defined by our ear excretions.

Inferior Science

Hundreds of years after the advent of chattel slavery, it’s easy to see why race is defined by skin color. Skin color offers a highly visible cue that makes sorting easy—at least until rape proliferates. The variation in human skin tones is due to a pigment called melanin, which comes from the Greek word melas, “black, dark.” Melanin is found in most living creatures, and when it is studied scientifically, researchers usually use the ink of Sepia officinalis, the common cuttlefish. Our social sorting by skin color can be put in more technical terms as a question of how much melanin our bodies produce and maintain as part of our epidermic structure.

Of course, in 2016, melanin content is not the only reason for one’s identification or racialization as Black. Today, Blackness is recognized as a cultural identity that is entangled with a historicity rooted in melanin content but not limited to it. In one study, the same picture of a woman with dark skin was racialized differently when her skin was lightened, and especially when her nose was made smaller. Studies show that phenotypic stereotypes about nose shape, hair texture, and hair melanin content function as cues in tandem with skin melanin. Meanwhile, what we have learned from studying dna and biochemistry tells us that sorting people by skin color is arbitrary for many scientific purposes, and that race is more about how we organize ourselves than about any absolute scientific truth. As the Africadian George Elliott Clarke, Canada’s parliamentary poet laureate, tells it, “Black is maple brass coffee iron mahogany copper cocoa bronze ebony chocolate.” Black identity is a sociogeographic construct with a real but tenuous connection to science.

Technically, melanin is a set of biomolecules that we think are synthesized by enzymes and that are notably very visibly colored. There are three types of melanin: the most common, eumelanin, which appears black or brown and occurs in skin and hair; the less abundant pheomelanin, which is on the yellow-to-red spectrum; and neuromelanin, which appears in high concentrations in the human brain, but the function of which we essentially don’t understand at all. For the most part, it seems, we don’t understand melanin…

…Today, many of us would agree there is no scientific basis for the animus toward eumelanin-abundant people, only economic convenience. The timeline is consistent with this perspective, since race was invented hundreds of years before the 19th-century discovery of melanocytes—the cells that produce the pigment we call melanin. Before that, racial construct was a chaotic mix of hatred, cruelty, greed, and perversity. In a classic example of the illogical nature of racial construction, we have Thomas Jefferson, who owned his Black mistress (or what many of us today would call “sex slave”) Sally Hemings and their children, waxing on about whiteness: “Are not the fine mixtures of red and white, the expressions of every passion by greater or less suffusions of color in the one [whites], preferable to that eternal monotony, which reigns in the countenances, that immovable veil of black, which covers all the emotions of the other race?” In other words, the still highly esteemed founding father of the United States preferred the expressive faces of free white people to the stoic faces of enslaved Black people, and he believed these apparent differences were due to race, not relative states of freedom and captivity…

Read the entire article here.

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Yom Kippur Haftorah: Black Lives Matter

Posted in Articles, Judaism, Media Archive, Religion, United States on 2016-10-19 18:53Z by Steven

Yom Kippur Haftorah: Black Lives Matter


Chanda Prescod-Weinstein

The opening chapter of a handwritten Book of Esther. source: Wikipedia

You shall love people — including Black people — with all your heart

I shared this with my synagogue during Yom Kippur 5777 Shacharit services.

To grow up Black in America is to know that your humanity is always in question.

I have a lot of memories of this from my childhood, but one stands out in particular.

When I was 15, I was thrown out of a New Year’s Eve party because Black people — or as they repeatedly shouted at me, N-words — were not welcome.

Later, when I was an 18 year old college sophomore, a white Jewish leader of Harvard Hillel yelled at me that I was an anti-Semite because I was at a peace rally organized by Arab students. She could not imagine that someone my color was an Ashkenazi Jew too.

Now at 34, every time my mother calls me, I think it’s to tell me one of my cousins is dead. Or in jail. A couple of weeks ago a phone call from a cousin was in fact about another one who was in jail, falsely accused by a white person who wanted to teach her a lesson…

Read the entire article here.

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