August 6, 2004  


HBCU Fellows Summer at SLAC

By Davide Castelvecchi

One scientist at a time, the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) fellows have contributed to bringing diversity to cutting-edge research. The program, now in its third year, enabled three visiting faculty to spend two months at SLAC this summer.

HBCU/SLAC Partnership Fellows receive Certificates of Achievement (left to right): Michael Watson (KIPAC/Fisk University), Jonathan Dorfan (DO), Stephen Egarievwe (EA/Fisk University), Lee Lyon (HR) and Bryan Mitchell (ESRD/Paine U). (Photo by Diana Rogers)

The fellowships were envisioned by retired employee Al Ashley, to expose participants to research opportunities they would not have access to at their institutions. The purpose is to provide the scientists with experience that can make a difference in their career and in their teaching. Meanwhile, the fellowships allow SLAC to tap into underutilized research potential.

The HBCU fellowships are funded by a DOE grant through Paine College, a historically black liberal arts school in Augusta, Georgia.

Many historically black institutions are small liberal arts colleges. Most have limited resources for maintaining labs and demanding teaching loads on their faculty, explains HBCU fellow Bryan Mitchell. “We don’t have a lot of time to do research, unless we bring in grants to get release time,” he says.

Mitchell teaches in the Biology Department at Paine, where he is in charge of three classes every semester.  

He worked on crystallizing a protein to prepare samples for a SPEAR3 beam line. The protein is part of a study to find new methods of fighting bacteria that have become resistant to antibiotics.

“This was a perfect opportunity,” says Mitchell, whose stay at SLAC has just ended. “I’m going to take a lot of knowledge back with me, and pass it on to a lot of students.”

Thanks to the experience gained at SLAC, Mitchell says he plans to apply for grants that will enable his students to do research on campus, instead of having to use labs at nearby institutions.

Michael Watson, an astrophysicist from Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, spent his two-month fellowship at the Kavli Institute. This was his second summer at SLAC.

Watson set up computer simulations of the turbulent regions around active galactic nuclei. These are mysterious cosmic phenomena—perhaps gigantic black holes—astronomers discovered at the center of some galaxies, including our own Milky Way.

“Both times I have been here have been enjoyable,” he says, thanks especially to the access to SLAC’s resources. “That includes personnel, but also journals, articles and books that I wouldn’t have back home,” he added.

Watson says his research may open doors to scientific collaborations. “Now, when I go talk to other scientists, I have a tangible asset.”

He also wants to encourage his students to do research as part of their education, and thinks his experience will help him assure the necessary resources. “The thing a small school needs is a small start-up,” he says.

Stephen Egarievwe, a nuclear physicist and computer scientist from Fisk, is developing software for the Enriched Xenon Observatory (EXO), a nuclear decay experiment SLAC is developing in collaboration with several other institutions. With his software, he says, “Collaborators who are not at the Lab will be able to view and control the experiment remotely.”

Egarievwe is also here for the second time. He was an HBCU fellow at SLAC in 2002. Last summer he worked at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Both summers were beneficial to him.

“When I got back to my school, I was able to use the training and experience I got here to provide research projects for my students, which helped many of them to get into graduate school.”

In the future, Egarievwe hopes to be able to train minority students who come to SLAC for summer internships. Providing opportunities is not only good for the students themselves. Egarievwe points out, “SLAC and DOE benefit as well, because by providing students with know-how in these fields, they prepare scientists who will be a resource for future research.”   


The Stanford Linear Accelerator Center is managed by Stanford University for the US Department of Energy

Last update Wednesday August 04, 2004 by Emily Ball