Transcript: A Fresh Perspective for Physics | Jul 11, 2019

Nam sits in the studio. She's in her early forties, with shoulder length curly brown hair. She's wearing glasses and a dark gray blazer over a blue shirt.

A caption on screen reads "A fresh perspective for physics. Nam Kiwanuka, @namshine, @theagenda."

Nam says CHANDA PRESCOD-WEINSTEIN STUDIES
SOME OF THE MOST COMPLEX
QUESTIONS IN SCIENCE.
PERHAPS THAT'S PART OF WHAT
HELPS HER STARE DOWN
TOUGH ISSUES HERE
ON EARTH TOO,
SUCH AS THOSE
SHE'S ENCOUNTERED
AS A YOUNG WOMAN OF
COLOUR BREAKING BARRIERS
IN THE STEM FIELDS.
SHE IS ASSISTANT PROFESSOR
OF PHYSICS AND ASTRONOMY,
AND A CORE FACULTY
MEMBER IN WOMEN'S STUDIES
AT THE
UNIVERSITY OF NEW HAMPSHIRE.
AND SHE JOINS US NOW.

Chandra is in her forties, with curly chin-length chestnut hair. She's wearing a black blazer.

Nam says WELCOME.

Chanda says THANK YOU.

NAM SAYS CHANDA, IT'S REALLY NICE
TO MEET YOU IN REAL LIFE.
I'VE BEEN FOLLOWING YOU ON
TWITTER FOR A WHILE,
SO IT'S NICE TO HAVE YOU
HERE IN THE STUDIO.
THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.
WHAT DREW YOU TO THE SCIENCE,
TO THE WORK THAT YOU DO?

The caption changes to "Chanda Prescod-Weinstein. University of New Hampshire."
Then, it changes again to "Becoming a Theoretical Physicist."

Chanda says SO WHEN I WAS ABOUT
TEN YEARS OLD,
MY MOM TOOK ME
TO SEE A DOCUMENTARY
ABOUT STEPHEN HAWKING CALLED
A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME.
SO IT WAS MADE BY ERROL MORRIS,
NAMED AFTER HIS BOOK.
AND ABOUT HALFWAY
THROUGH THE MOVIE,
THEY WERE TALKING ABOUT
HOW EINSTEIN HADN'T FIGURED OUT
WHAT HAPPENS AT THE CENTRE
OF BLACK HOLES
WITH SINGULARITIES.
AND I WAS LIKE, "WAIT, YOU CAN
GET PAID TO DO THAT?"

[NAM CHUCKLES]

Chanda says AND THAT WAS IT.
I WALKED OUT OF THE MOVIE,
BEGGING MY MOM
FOR A COPY OF THE BOOK.
AND I JUST KNEW THAT THAT WAS
WHAT I WANTED TO DO.

NAM SAYS THAT'S WHAT YOU WANTED
TO DO?

Chanda says YEAH.

Nam says YOU ACTUALLY WROTE A LETTER TO
HIM, TO STEPHEN HAWKING.

CHANDA SAYS I DID.

NAM SAYS YEAH.

Chanda says SO MAYBE A YEAR LATER,
I FOUND HIS e-mail ADDRESS
AND SENT AN EMAIL,
AND SAID,
"HOW DO YOU BECOME
A THEORETICAL PHYSICIST?"
AND ONE OF HIS GRADUATE STUDENTS
RESPONDED
AND EXPLAINED TO ME THAT YOU
HAVE TO GO TO A GOOD COLLEGE
AND APPLY FOR A PHD
AND GET A PHD.
AND THEN AFTERWARDS,
YOU BECOME A PROFESSOR.
AND SO THAT'S WHAT I STARTED
TO PLAN TO DO.

Nam says I THINK WHEN YOU'RE A CHILD, YOU
JUST SEE THE WORLD BEING SO BIG,
AND EVERYTHING IS SO INCREDIBLE,
AND YOU HAVE A LOT OF QUESTIONS.
WHEN YOU LOOK BACK, DO YOU
REMEMBER WHAT DREW YOU TO IT?
WHAT PIQUED YOUR INTEREST,
YOUR CURIOSITY,
AT 11 YEARS OLD TO DO THE WORK
THAT YOU'RE DOING RIGHT NOW?

Chanda says I THINK PART OF IT,
MY PARENTS ARE BOTH ACTIVISTS,
AND SO I SPENT
MY ENTIRE CHILDHOOD
SORT OF 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... ACTUALLY WHAT WAS
ATTRACTIVE TO ME
ABOUT DOING
COSMOLOGY AND PARTICLE PHYSICS
WAS HERE WAS A THING
THAT WAS SORT OF BEYOND THESE
HUMAN CONCERNS.
AND I THINK THAT
THAT WAS PART OF
WHAT WAS ATTRACTIVE
TO ME ABOUT IT,
WAS IT'S SOMETHING
THAT WAS BIGGER THAN ALL OF US,
BUT INTERESTED ALL OF US,
WHICH IS:
WHERE DO WE COME FROM?
WHY ARE WE HERE?
LIKE, THESE REALLY BIG,
ESOTERIC QUESTIONS.

Nam says SPEAKING OF THE BIG ISSUES THAT
ARE HAPPENING HERE ON EARTH,
YOU ARE A PERSON
WHO IS ACTIVE
IN THE NATIONAL SOCIETY
OF BLACK PHYSICISTS,
THE SOCIETY FOR THE ADVANCEMENT
OF CHICANOS-HISPANICS,
AND NATIVE AMERICANS
IN THE SCIENCES,
THE COMMITTEE FOR
SEXUAL-ORIENTATION
AND GENDER
MINORITIES IN ASTRONOMY,
AND YOU'VE ALSO
BEEN INVOLVED
WITH THE JEWISH VOICE FOR PEACE
ACADEMIC ADVISORY COUNCIL.
HOW DO YOU IDENTIFY?

The caption changes to "Defining oneself."

Chanda says I AM A QUEER BLACK WOMAN
WHO... I WOULD SAY I BELIEVE IN
PAN-PEOPLE-OF-COLOUR ORGANIZING
AND WORKING TOGETHER.
AND I'M AN ANTI-RACIST
ORGANIZER.
AND I THINK THAT THAT'S
WHAT DRIVES MY WORK
IN ALL OF THOSE GROUPS
AND ORGANIZATIONS,
THAT I THINK IT'S VERY IMPORTANT
TO FOCUS ON ENDING RACISM
AND WORKING FOR
UNDERREPRESENTED MINORITIES,
WHICH IN THE UNITED STATES
IS TRADITIONALLY
PEOPLE OF AFRICAN
DESCENT,
PEOPLE WHO ARE
HISPANIC-IDENTIFIED,
AND PEOPLE WHO ARE
NATIVE AMERICAN.
AND SO I'M JUST VERY FOCUSED ON
HOW WE CAN MOVE TOWARDS
EQUITY AND EQUALITY.

Nam says AND YOU ALSO... I THINK
NUMBER... THE 64TH BLACK WOMAN IN...

CHANDA SAYS YEAH, SO... AND THE
NUMBERS CHANGE.

NAM SAYS UH HUH.

Chanda says BUT I... IF WE'RE JUST LOOKING
AT AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMEN
WHO HAVE EARNED PHDS FROM
DEPARTMENTS OF PHYSICS,
I WAS SOMETHING LIKE
NUMBER 51, NUMBER 52.
AND TO GIVE THAT CONTEXT, THERE
ARE ABOUT 2,000 PHDS IN PHYSICS
AWARDED EVERY YEAR
IN THE UNITED STATES.
SO EVEN THOUGH I EARNED MINE
IN CANADA,
AND SO WE WOULD HAVE TO EXPAND
THE NUMBERS A LITTLE BIT,
THE NUMBERS
OF AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMEN
EARNING PHDS IN PHYSICS
IS FAR TOO RARE COMPARED
TO OUR PERCENTAGE
IN THE POPULATION.

Nam says WHAT DO YOU THINK NEEDS
TO BE DONE TO MAKE THAT HIGHER,
THAT NUMBER HIGHER?

The caption changes to "Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, @IBJIYONGI."

CHANDA SAYS SO I ACTUALLY GOT A
TWEET FROM A BLACK WOMAN
WHO WAS AN UNDERGRADUATE
AT WATERLOO
WHEN I WAS A
PHD STUDENT THERE,
AND SHE SAID THAT IT WAS VERY
HEARTENING TO SEE ME ON CAMPUS
BECAUSE SHE HAD NEVER SEEN
A MORE SENIOR BLACK WOMAN.
BUT SHE NEVER REACHED OUT TO ME,
AND EVENTUALLY SHE FOUND
THAT IT WAS A VERY STRESSFUL
ENVIRONMENT,
AND WITHOUT ANY SUPPORT,
SHE ENDED UP SWITCHING DEGREES
TO PSYCHOLOGY.
AND THAT'S A STORY THAT I HEAR
OVER AND OVER AGAIN
FROM BLACK WOMEN:
A LACK OF MENTORING,
A LACK OF REPRESENTATION,
A LACK OF SUPPORT
REALLY TRANSLATES INTO PEOPLE
FEELING UNWELCOME IN THE FIELD.
AND, LIKE, PEOPLE LIKE THEM
AREN'T SUPPOSED TO BE THERE.
AND EVENTUALLY, IT'S EMOTIONALLY
GRUELLING FOR A LOT OF PEOPLE,
AND SO THEY WALK AWAY.

Nam says AND WHAT DO YOU THINK HAS
ALLOWED YOU TO STAY?

Chanda says I AM REALLY STUBBORN.

[NAM LAUGHS]

Chanda says I MEAN,
YOU COULD ASK MY MOM ABOUT IT.
IT'S NOT HER FAVOURITE QUALITY
MOST OF THE TIME.

Nam laughs and says BUT IT'S HELPFUL IN THIS WORLD.

CHANDA SAYS IT'S HELPFUL
IN THIS WORLD.
YEAH.
AND I THINK I INHERITED IT
FROM HER AS WELL.

[BOTH LAUGH]

Chanda says SORRY, MOM.
BUT I REALLY... I THINK YOU HAVE
TO BE UNUSUALLY STUBBORN
AND UNFAIRLY STUBBORN.
I DON'T THINK
THAT IT'S... IT'S NOT SOMETHING
THAT I WOULD SAY
TO SOMEONE,
"THIS IS A QUALITY
YOU HAVE TO HAVE."
I THINK IT'S A QUALITY
THAT IS CURRENTLY NECESSARY.
BUT I THINK IN FUTURE,
THAT ALSO MEANS
THAT WE ONLY GET A CERTAIN
TYPE OF PERSON
WHO'S ACTING
AS A SCIENTIST,
WHO'S THE PERSON WHO CAN
OVERCOME THESE BARRIERS.
BUT WHAT ABOUT ALL OF THE PEOPLE
WHO HAVE DIFFERENT TYPES
OF PERSONALITIES?
IF YOU'RE NOT A NOISY PERSON,
THAT DOESN'T MEAN
YOU'RE NOT A GOOD SCIENTIST.

Nam says I JUST WANT TO READ SOMETHING
THAT YOU HAVE ON YOUR WEBSITE
UNDER THE HEADING
"WHO I AM."
AND YOU WRITE...

A quote appears on screen, under the title "It's amazing." The quote reads "Science is a collective human endeavor. My goal is to chip away at what we think we know and what we don't know in order to expand what we actually know.
I believe the Universe is always more amazing than we think it is."
Quoted from Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, cprescodweinstein.com

NAM SAYS IS THERE SOMETHING THAT
STRUCK YOU AS MORE AMAZING
ABOUT THE UNIVERSE RECENTLY?

The caption changes to "Tackling the universe."

Chanda says I GUESS
THIS ISN'T RECENT,
BUT THE ONE THAT I ALWAYS LIKE
TO SHARE WITH PEOPLE
IS THAT THE POP CULTURE
BLACK HOLE STORY
THAT WE HEAR IS THAT YOU CROSS
THE EVENT HORIZON,
AND YOU FALL INTO A BLACK HOLE,
AND THEN YOU CAN'T GET OUT.
BUT I ACTUALLY THINK THAT WHAT
HAPPENS IS WAY MORE FANTASTICAL
THAN THAT.
SO, IN FACT, THE PROPERTIES OF
SPACE AND TIME CHANGE
ONCE YOU CROSS
THE EVENT HORIZON.
SO, SPACE STARTS
TO ACT LIKE TIME.
AND SO AS WE ALL EXPERIENCE,
TIME ONLY GOES FORWARD,
SO INSIDE A BLACK HOLE,
SPACE ONLY GOES FORWARD
WHICH MEANS IF YOU TRY
AND TURN AROUND AND WALK AWAY,
YOU'RE STILL WALKING FORWARDS.

NAM SAYS THAT IS SO FASCINATING.

Chanda says RIGHT.
THAT'S SO MUCH
BETTER THAN,
"YOU FELL IN
AND YOU CAN'T GET OUT."

[BOTH LAUGH]

CHANDA SAYS RIGHT?
I LOVE THAT.

NAM SAYS WELL YOU STUDY DARK MATTER.
MANY PEOPLE HAVE
HEARD THAT TERM,
BUT I DON'T KNOW IF MANY
PEOPLE KNOW WHAT IT MEANS.
MYSELF INCLUDED.
COULD YOU GIVE US
A LAYMAN'S EXPLANATION?

Chanda says YEAH, SO I THINK THE FIRST THING
I WOULD SAY ABOUT DARK MATTER
IS THAT I ACTUALLY THINK
"DARK MATTER."
IS NOT A VERY GOOD
TITLE FOR IT.
AND IT'S DEFINITELY
FROM A DIFFERENT ERA.
IT WAS FIRST COINED
IN THE 1930S,
SO I THINK THAT
AT A DIFFERENT TIME,
IT WOULD HAVE
GOTTEN A DIFFERENT NAME.

NAM SAYS WHAT WOULD YOU CALL IT,
IF YOU COULD?

Chanda says SO I THINK I WOULD CALL IT
"CLEAR MATTER,"
OR "TRANSPARENT MATTER,"
OR "INVISIBLE MATTER."
SO THE MAIN THING IS
IS THAT LIGHT GOES THROUGH IT,
AND THAT'S WHY WE CAN'T SEE IT.
SO, IT'S VERY DIFFERENT FROM
THINGS THAT ARE DARK.
LIKE,
THE FLOOR IN HERE IS DARK,
AND I CAN SEE IT
JUST FINE, RIGHT?
BUT... AND THAT'S BECAUSE LIGHT'S
REFLECTING OFF OF IT STILL.

NAM SAYS YEAH.

Chanda says BUT WITH DARK MATTER,
THERE'S NO REFLECTION.
LIGHT'S JUST GOING
RIGHT THROUGH IT.
AND WE ARE ACTUALLY NOT 100 percent
SURE THAT DARK MATTER EXISTS;
IT'S JUST THE IDEA THAT MATCHES
OUR DNA IN THE BEST WAY.
SO THERE'S A DISCREPANCY BETWEEN
HOW MUCH LIGHT WE SEE
COMING FROM STARS
AND HOW THE STARS
ARE MOVING IN GALAXIES,
AND HOW MUCH MASS
WE THINK A GALAXY HAS
BASED ON THE PRESENCE
OF THOSE STARS.
SO TO MAKE
THAT MISMATCH WORK,
YOU ADD DARK MATTER
INTO THE EQUATION,
AND EVERYTHING WORKS OUT.

Nam says WHY IS IT IMPORTANT
TO STUDY THIS?

Chanda says SO, YOU KNOW, I THINK THAT'S A
REALLY DEEP QUESTION, RIGHT?

NAM SAYS YEAH.

Chanda says THAT'S A VERY... I THINK DIFFERENT
PEOPLE HAVE DIFFERENT REASONS
FOR COMING AT THE DARK MATTER
QUESTION.
TO BE HONEST,
I DID NOT PLAN OUT A CAREER
WHERE I WAS GOING TO BE WORKING
ON DARK MATTER.
IT'S SOMETHING THAT I FELL INTO
BECAUSE OF THE RESEARCH GROUP
I ENDED UP IN,
AS A POSTDOCTORAL FELLOW AT MIT.
BUT I THINK THAT... YOU KNOW,
WHEN I SAY THAT THE UNIVERSE
IS ALWAYS MORE FANTASTIC
THAN WE THINK,
WE HAVE NO IDEA.
WHEN EINSTEIN WROTE DOWN
"GENERAL RELATIVITY,"
WE HAD NO IDEA THAT LATER WE
WOULD ALL BE USING IT EVERY DAY
IN THE FORM
OF GOOGLE MAPS,
BECAUSE GPS REQUIRES GENERAL
RELATIVISTIC CORRECTIONS
IN ORDER TO WORK.

NAM SAYS RIGHT.

Chanda says SO, WE ACTUALLY JUST DON'T KNOW
WHAT'S AROUND THE CORNER
AND WHY IT WILL BE PRACTICAL
OR WHAT'S NEXT.
BUT THE OTHER THING IS IS THAT
EVERY HUMAN CULTURE... HAS COME UP
WITH A COSMOLOGY
AND A STORY OF WHERE
WE COME FROM.
I THINK WE'RE
A STORYTELLING SPECIES,
AND THIS IS A
STORYTELLING PROCESS.

NAM SAYS THIS IS PART OF THE STORY?

CHANDA SAYS YEAH, THIS IS OUR STORY.

Nam says ANOTHER THING THAT YOU STUDY
ARE AXIONS.
WHAT ARE THOSE?

Chanda says SO AXIONS
ARE A HYPOTHESIS PARTICLE.
AGAIN, WE DON'T KNOW
IF IT'S REAL OR IF IT'S NOT.
IT WAS ACTUALLY THE BYPRODUCT
OF A MECHANISM
THAT WILL HELP SOLVE A PROBLEM
IN THE STANDARD MODEL
OF PARTICLE PHYSICS.
SO, YOU MAY HAVE HEARD
IN THE PRESS
THAT NOW THAT
THE HIGGS WAS FOUND
AT THE
LARGE HADRON COLLIDER,
THE STANDARD MODEL OF PARTICLE
PHYSICS IS COMPLETE,
BUT IT ACTUALLY DOES HAVE A FEW
LITTLE PROBLEMS WANDERING AROUND
THAT REQUIRE SOME PATCHES.

NAM SAYS LIKE WHAT?

The caption changes to "Connect with us: Twitter: @theagenda; Facebook, agendaconnect@tvo.org, Instagram."

Chanda says SO THERE'S SOMETHING CALLED THE
STRONG CP PROBLEM,
AND WITH THIS PROBLEM,
THERE'S A PREDICTION
FROM THE THEORY... SO JUST
THE EQUATIONS
THAT WE'RE WRITING
DOWN... THESE WORK PERFECTLY
FOR EVERY
OTHER ASPECT
OF THE STANDARD MODEL
OF PARTICLE PHYSICS,
EXCEPT THEY PREDICT
THAT THE NEUTRON
WILL HAVE SOMETHING CALLED
AN ELECTRIC DIPOLE MOMENT.
SO WE'VE BEEN LOOKING
FOR DECADES
FOR THIS ELECTRIC DIPOLE MOMENT,
AND IT'S NOT THERE.
SO, HOW DO WE GET RID OF THIS
TERM IN THE EQUATION?
SO ONE WAY
OF SOLVING THE PROBLEM
IS WITH THIS AXION MECHANISM.
A FEW YEARS AFTER PEOPLE
REALIZED THAT YOU COULD SOLVE
THE PROBLEM WITH THIS MECHANISM,
SOMEONE ELSE SAID,
"BUT WAIT A MINUTE; YOU CAN
SOLVE THE DARK MATTER PROBLEM
WITH THE AXION TOO."
SO, WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THE AXION
IS YOU CAN REALLY KILL TWO BIRDS
WITH ONE STONE.

Nam says AND IT'S... IT MUST BE
LIKE... YOUR JOB... I KNOW YOU TEACH
AS WELL,
IT MUST BE ONE OF THOSE THINGS,
LIKE, YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE
GOING TO FIND OUT EVERY DAY.
IT MUST BE SO EXCITING
TO DO THE WORK THAT YOU DO.

Chanda says YEAH, I THINK THAT ONE OF THE
CHALLENGES THAT PEOPLE RUN INTO
WHEN THEY'RE INTERESTED
IN SCIENCE,
AND THEN THEY REALLY DIG IN
AND START DOING SCIENCE,
IS THAT SCIENCE
IS ABOUT WHAT WE DON'T KNOW.
IT'S NOT ABOUT WHAT WE DO KNOW.
SO, YOU SPEND, YOU KNOW,
FOUR YEARS IN UNDERGRADUATE
READING FROM TEXTBOOKS
THAT SAY,
"HERE ARE THE
THINGS THAT WE KNOW,"
AND YOU CAN KIND OF
GET THE IMPRESSION
THAT THAT'S WHAT SCIENCE
IS ABOUT;
IT'S ABOUT KNOWING
THINGS.
BUT IN FACT IT'S ABOUT BEING
CONFUSED AND NOT KNOWING.
AND PART OF BEING A SUCCESSFUL
SCIENTIST IS BEING COMFORTABLE
WITH NOT KNOWING
WHAT'S GOING ON.

NAM SAYS NOT KNOWING?

CHANDA SAYS SCIENCE IS REALLY ABOUT
WHAT WE DON'T KNOW.
SO I THINK THAT
IT CAN BE CONFUSING,
AND THE CONFUSION
CAN BE STRESSFUL,
BECAUSE I THINK
THAT IN NORTH AMERICAN CULTURE,
WE DON'T EMPHASIZE
BEING CONFUSED
AS A QUALITY... AS A POSITIVE
QUALITY, RIGHT?
BUT THAT'S REALLY... I THINK
AS A THEORETICAL PHYSICIST,
MY JOB IS
TO MAKE THINGS UP
AND THEN SEE IF I CAN FIND
A WAY TO MATCH IT WITH REALITY.

NAM SAYS IF IT WORKS OUT?

Chanda says YEAH.

Nam says WELL, BACK IN JANUARY,
NEW SCIENTIST
MAGAZINE
PUBLISHED AN ARTICLE ABOUT
THE SO-CALLED CRISIS
IN THEORETICAL PHYSICS.
NEIL TUROK, THE FORMER DIRECTOR
OF THE PERIMETER INSTITUTE
IN WATERLOO,
HAD THIS TO SAY...

A quote appears on screen, under the title "Where did we go wrong?" The quote reads "We are entering a crisis of the most fruitful kind, where the very foundations are in jeopardy, and that's just thrilling... I'm busy trying to persuade my colleagues here to disregard the last 30 years. We have to retrace our steps and figure out where we went wrong."
Neil Turok, as quoted in New Scientist. January 19, 2019.

Nam says FIRST OFF, DO YOU AGREE
THAT THERE'S A CRISIS
IN THEORETICAL PHYSICS?

Chanda says YOU KNOW, I THINK THAT THIS
WHOLE CONVERSATION,
IN FACT THAT ARTICLE,
WAS SUCH A GREAT EXAMPLE
OF HOW SCIENCE IS NOT REALLY
AN OBJECTIVE PHENOMENON
BUT IS IN FACT A
SOCIAL PHENOMENON.
IT'S A THING ULTIMATELY
THAT PEOPLE ARE DOING, RIGHT?

NAM SAYS INTERESTING.

Chanda says SO NEIL, WHO'S A VERY
WELL-RESPECTED COSMOLOGIST,
HE WAS THE SENIOR MEMBER OF MY
RESEARCH GROUP WHEN I WAS THERE
AS A PHD STUDENT;
HE'S A THEORETICAL PHYSICIST,
AND SO FROM HIS POINT OF VIEW,
I THINK WHAT HE WAS SAYING
IS THAT THERE HAVEN'T BEEN
NEW, EXCITING THEORIES
THAT MATCH SOME OF THE
EXPERIMENTAL PROBLEMS
THAT WE'VE RUN INTO.
BUT I THINK IF YOU ASKED
AN EXPERIMENTALIST
THE SAME QUESTION, THEY WOULD
GIVE A VERY DIFFERENT ANSWER.
SO IF WE DISREGARD
THE LAST 30 YEARS,
THAT... THERE GOES
THE TOP QUARK
WHICH WAS DISCOVERED
I THINK IN 1994.
THERE GOES THE HIGGS
WHICH WAS DISCOVERED IN 2012.
IT'S BEEN AN ENORMOUSLY
PRODUCTIVE TIME
FOR EXPERIMENTAL
PARTICLE PHYSICS.
EXPERIMENTAL COSMOLOGY,
OBSERVATIONAL COSMOLOGY,
IN 1998, WE DISCOVERED THAT THE
UNIVERSE... THAT THE SPACETIME
IS ACCELERATING IN ITS EXPANSION
AND NOT JUST EXPANDING.
IT'S BEEN ENORMOUSLY PRODUCTIVE.
AND SO I THINK IT'S REALLY... FROM
THE POINT OF VIEW OF THEORISTS,
WE HAVEN'T NECESSARILY DONE
A GOOD JOB OF COMING UPS
WITH EXPLANATIONS FOR ALL OF THE
THINGS THAT THE EXPERIMENTALISTS
AND OBSERVERS ARE SEEING.

Nam says DO YOU THINK THAT'S WHY HE SAID
TO DISREGARD THE LAST 30 YEARS?
OR IS THERE ANOTHER EXPLANATION?

The caption changes to "Crisis management."

Chanda says I SUPPOSE.
BUT I DON'T KNOW
IF I WOULD... I WOULD AGREE
THAT WE SHOULD DISREGARD
THE LAST 30 YEARS.
I THINK THAT WE KEEP
PLUGGING ALONG.
AND OUR JOB IS TO TRY THINGS OUT
AND SEE IF THEY WORK.
AND IF THEY DON'T WORK,
MOVE ON TO THE NEXT THING.
AND AT THE SAME TIME,
WE ALSO NEVER KNOW
WHEN A NEW IDEA IS GOING TO
COMPLETELY RADICALLY CHANGE
THE WAY THAT WE SEE THE WORLD.
THAT'S CERTAINLY WHAT HAPPENED
WITH SPECIAL RELATIVITY IN 1905,
AND WITH GENERAL RELATIVITY
IN 1915.
BUT I DON'T THINK
YOU CAN PLAN FOR THAT.
I DON'T THINK
THAT YOU CAN JUST SAY,
"OK, NOW IT'S TIME
FOR A REVOLUTION."
REVOLUTIONS IN SCIENCE I THINK
HAPPEN WHEN THEY HAPPEN.
AND WE ARRIVE AT THEM
PARTLY BECAUSE OF THE WORK
THAT PEOPLE HAVE BEEN DOING
BEFORE WE GET THERE.

Nam says YOU SPENT SOME TIME
AT THE PERIMETER INSTITUTE.
WHAT WAS THE MOST IMPORTANT
THING YOU LEARNED THERE?

Chanda says SO I GUESS, AGAIN, I WOULD SAY
SCIENCE IS A SOCIAL PHENOMENON.
WHEN I WAS THERE, THERE WAS ONLY
ONE WOMAN MEMBER OF THE FACULTY,
AND IN FACT, AT ONE POINT,
SHE SAID TO ME,
"LOOK AROUND THE ROOM.
EVERYBODY IN HERE THINKS
THAT THEY'RE OBJECTIVE,
BUT THEY'RE JUST PEOPLE,
AND THEY HAVE BIASES TOO."
AND I THINK THAT THAT WAS
ACTUALLY A REALLY IMPORTANT NOTE
FOR ME.
NOT JUST AS A STUDENT WHO,
YOU KNOW, HAD LESS POWER
THAN A LOT OF THE PEOPLE
IN THE ROOM,
BECAUSE MOST OF
THEM WERE FACULTY,
BUT ALSO AS A SCIENTIST
TO ALWAYS BE AWARE OF THE FACT
THAT I AM NOT, YOU KNOW,
AN OBJECTIVE MACHINE.
I'M STILL A PERSON.
I'M STILL GOING TO HAVE
MY PREFERENCES.
WHY DO I WORK
ON AXIONS
AND NOT SOME OTHER
DARK MATTER CANDIDATE?
THERE ISN'T SOME GREAT,
LOGICAL REASON FOR THAT.

NAM SAYS BUT JUST SAYING THAT,
BECAUSE I THINK
THERE'S A LOT OF SKEPTICISM
AROUND SCIENCE RIGHT NOW,
SOMEONE HEARING YOU WILL SAY,
"AHA, SHE PROVED MY POINT;
THERE IS BIAS IN SCIENCE."
DO YOU THINK THAT... HOW DO
YOU... HOW DO YOU TELL PEOPLE
THAT SCIENCE
IS IMPORTANT,
AND JUST BY SAYING
THAT YOU HAVE A BIAS
DOESN'T MEAN THAT YOU'RE NOT
GOING TO PRESENT THE FACTS?

Chanda says SO I THINK, AGAIN, THERE'S A
REALLY IMPORTANT DISTINCTION
HERE BETWEEN
THEORETICAL PHYSICISTS
AND EXPERIMENTAL PHYSICISTS.
SO IF WE WERE TO TAKE AN EXAMPLE
LIKE GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE... THE EXPERIMENTAL DATA,
THE OBSERVATIONAL DATA,
IS EXTREMELY CLEAR THERE,
THAT WE ARE EXPERIENCING
MAN-MADE GLOBAL
CLIMATE CHANGE.
THAT'S NOT JUST A THEORY.
THAT'S SOMETHING
THAT'S BEEN TESTED.
I DO THINK THAT, FOR EXAMPLE,
WHERE YOU MIGHT SEE BIAS
IS IT TURNS OUT
THAT EXXONMOBILE KNEW
THAT GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE
WAS A LIKELY PHENOMENON.
THEY WERE PROJECTING
THIS VERY EARLY.
I THINK THE NUMBERS THAT... THE
DATES I'VE HEARD
FROM THE 1970S,
1980S.
THEY MADE AN ACTIVE DECISION
NOT TO SHARE THAT INFORMATION
WITH THE REST OF HUMANITY.
AND IN MY VIEW, PUT HUMANITY AT
RISK IN MAKING THAT DECISION.
SO, I THINK THAT THAT'S WHERE
BIAS COMES IN,
IS WHAT INFORMATION DO
YOU DECIDE TO SHARE?
WHAT EXPERIMENTS
DO YOU DECIDE TO DO
AND WHICH ONES DO YOU NOT DO?
AND I THINK THE DECISION NOT TO
TALK ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE
EARLY ON WAS
A VERY DANGEROUS ONE,
AND IS A GREAT EXAMPLE
OF HOW SOCIAL BIAS
CAN INTERFERE WITH SCIENCE
AND SHAPE SCIENCE.
BUT I DON'T THINK THAT MEANS
THE CONCLUSIONS ARE WRONG,
BUT I DO THINK THAT WE
MAKE CHOICES
ABOUT WHAT
SCIENCE WE DO
AND WHERE... WHEN WE PLACE
A VALUE ON IT.

NAM SAYS AND DO YOU THINK THERE'S
PLACE FOR THAT CONVERSATION
TO HAPPEN?

Chanda says YEAH, I THINK... I THINK
THERE IS DIFFICULTY
IN HAVING
THAT CONVERSATION.
PARTLY BECAUSE I THINK
SCIENTISTS CAN BE VERY TENSE.
IF WE TALK ABOUT HOW
THERE IS BIAS IN SCIENCE,
THEN MAYBE PEOPLE
WILL STOP BELIEVING
THAT GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE
IS REAL
AND WILL NOT FEEL
A SENSE OF URGENCY
ABOUT TAKING
ACTION ABOUT IT.
AND I THINK THAT WE JUST HAVE TO
GRIN AND BEAR IT,
BUT THAT WE HAVE TO... THE ONLY
WAY OUT IS THROUGH.
WE HAVE TO HAVE
THOSE DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS,
EVEN IF THEY ARE DIFFICULT.
AND AS SCIENTISTS,
WE SHOULD BE PREPARED FOR THAT
BECAUSE SCIENCE IS HARD.
THIS IS NO DIFFERENT FROM THE
OTHER PROBLEMS THAT WE TACKLE,
EXCEPT MAYBE LIVES DEPEND ON IT.
AND THAT GIVES IT A CERTAIN
SENSE OF URGENCY
THAT THE DARK MATTER PROBLEM
DOESN'T HAVE.

Nam says A FEW YEARS AGO,
YOU TOOK THE STEP TO ASK
THE PROFESSIONAL SOCIETIES
THAT YOU'RE INVOLVED WITH
TO PUT OUT A STATEMENT
SUPPORTING BLACK LIVES MATTER.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE
TO TAKE THAT STEP?

The caption changes to "Activism through science."

Chanda says I THINK FOR EVERY PERSON
OF AFRICAN DESCENT,
PARTICULARLY THOSE WHO
ARE DARKER THAN I AM,
BUT MYSELF INCLUDED,
I WOULD SAY,
WALKING OUT YOUR FRONT DOOR
IN A COUNTRY
WHERE WE KNOW THERE IS BIAS,
FROM NOT JUST POLICE,
BUT VIGILANTES ON THE STREETS,
IS AN ACT OF BRAVERY,
JUST WALKING OUT YOUR DOOR.
SO TO GET TO YOUR LAB, YOU HAVE
TO WALK OUT YOUR FRONT DOOR;
YOU HAVE TO BE WILLING TO ENGAGE
THE OUTSIDE WORLD
AND ENGAGE SOCIETY.
AND HONESTLY, IF WE LOOK AT
EXAMPLES... FOR EXAMPLE,
THE LITTLE GIRL
AIYANA STANLEY-JONES
WHO WAS KILLED BY THE POLICE
WHILE SLEEPING ON HER COUCH,
EVEN BEHIND YOUR FRONT DOOR
ISN'T NECESSARILY SAFE.
SO, WHAT I WAS LOOKING
FOR MY PROFESSIONAL SOCIETIES
TO SAY... THEY KEEP
TELLING US
THAT DIVERSITY
AND INCLUSION MATTER,
BUT BLACK SCIENTISTS
AREN'T JUST BLACK SCIENTISTS
WHEN THEY'RE INSIDE
THEIR CLASSROOMS
OR INSIDE
THEIR LABORATORIES;
THEY'RE ALSO BLACK SCIENTISTS
WHEN THEY'RE AT HOME,
WHEN THEY'RE WALKING
DOWN THE STREET.
AND SO DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION,
TO THE EXTENT
THAT THOSE ARE EVEN USEFUL
CONCEPTS TO TALK ABOUT... HAVE TO INCLUDE HAVING A
CONVERSATION ABOUT RECOGNIZING
THAT THE LIVES
OF THOSE PEOPLE MATTER,
EVEN WHEN THEY'RE NOT IN
EXPLICITLY SCIENTIFIC SETTINGS.

NAM SAYS HOW WAS YOUR REQUEST RECEIVED?

Chanda says SO THERE WERE A GROUP OF WHITE
SCIENTISTS IN... PARTICULARLY IN
THE AMERICAN PHYSICAL SOCIETY
WHO I THINK REALLY HURT IT,
AND WROTE A LETTER
AND GATHERED SIGNATURES
TO GET
THE AMERICAN PHYSICAL SOCIETY
TO PUT OUT A STATEMENT
ABOUT BLACK LIVES MATTER.
AND I THINK THAT
WAS REALLY HEARTENING.
ACTUALLY, ONE OF THE AUTHORS
OF THE LETTER
WAS PROFESSOR ELENA LONG,
WHO IS NOW ONE OF MY COLLEAGUES
AT THE UNIVERSITY
OF NEW HAMPSHIRE,
AND SHE WAS
CERTAINLY A DRAW FOR ME
IN MAKING THE DECISION TO GO TO
UNIVERSITY OF NEW HAMPSHIRE
BECAUSE I KNEW I HAD
THAT KIND OF SUPPORT.
AND I THINK AS A BARRIER-BREAKER
HERSELF, AS A TRANS WOMAN
IN EXPERIMENTAL NUCLEAR PHYSICS,
SHE UNDERSTOOD THE IMPORTANCE
OF TALKING ABOUT VIOLENCE
AGAINST THE COMMUNITIES
THAT WE ARE A PART OF,
AND CONFRONTING THAT
AS A FEATURE OF PEOPLE'S
EVERYDAY LIVES.
AT THE SAME TIME, THE LACK OF A
STATEMENT I THINK EVENTUALLY... WE
DIDN'T ULTIMATELY REALLY GET A
STATEMENT THAT EXPLICITLY SAID,
"BLACK LIVES MATTER,"
AND PART OF WHAT I HEARD
WAS THAT PEOPLE WHO HAVE
POLICE IN THEIR FAMILIES
WOULD BE UPSET ABOUT THAT.
AND I REALLY DON'T SEE
BLACK LIVES MATTER
AND THE EXISTENCE OF POLICE
NECESSARILY BEING,
AT LEAST ON THE SURFACE,
CONFLICTING STATEMENTS.
AND I WONDER ABOUT,
YOU KNOW, MY MENTEE
WHO CALLED ME A FEW YEARS AGO
AND SAID,
"I WAS WORKING
LATE IN THE LAB,
AND I STEPPED OUT TO TAKE
A PHONE CALL,
AND A WHITE WOMAN
WALKED UP TO ME
AND SAID THAT
IF I DIDN'T SHOW HER ID,
SHE WAS GOING TO CALL
THE POLICE ON ME."
WHAT DO I SAY TO THAT STUDENT?
IS YOUR PROFESSIONAL SOCIETY
HERE FOR YOU, OR ARE THEY NOT?

NAM SAYS WHAT DID YOU SAY
TO THE STUDENT THEN?

Chanda says YOU KNOW, I SAID A LOT OF THINGS
THAT I PROBABLY SHOULDN'T SAY
ON TELEVISION.

[BOTH LAUGH]

Chanda says I WAS... YOU KNOW,
WHEN STUDENTS COME TO ME
WITH STORIES
LIKE THAT,
THEY'RE VERY EMOTIONALLY
HEARTRENDING FOR ME.
I WANT TO PROTECT THEM.
THERE ARE SO MANY THINGS THAT I
CAN'T PROTECT THE STUDENTS FROM.
WHEN THE STUDENTS COME... WHEN
THEIR CLASSMATES,
THEIR WHITE CLASSMATES
COME TO THEM AND SAY,
"YOU'RE ONLY HERE
BECAUSE THEY NEEDED
A VISIBLE MINORITY
PRESENCE,"
AND... TO TRY AND UNDERCUT
THEIR CONFIDENCE
THAT THEY ARE ACCOMPLISHED
PEOPLE WHO DESERVE THE THINGS
THAT THEY HAVE RECEIVED
IN THE SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY,
IT'S VERY DIFFICULT TO NOT BE
ABLE TO SHIELD THEM FROM THAT.
AND I THINK THAT THAT DRIVES
A LOT OF MY ACTIVISM,
IS THAT I CAN'T STOP
ANY INDIVIDUAL INCIDENT,
BUT MAYBE
I CAN MOVE THINGS
SO THAT THOSE INCIDENTS ARE LESS
FREQUENT AND EVENTUALLY STOP.

Nam says YOU'VE ALSO WRITTEN ABOUT THE
SEXUAL MISCONDUCT ALLEGATIONS
AGAINST PROBABLY THE BEST-KNOWN
SCIENTIST... BLACK SCIENTIST
IN THE U.S., OR ANYWHERE,
NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON.
AND ON YOUR... YOU WROTE
THIS ABOUT HIM...

A quote appears on screen, under the title "On role model misconduct." The quote reads "I was a graduate student in astronomy and feeling a bit lost in a small, very white town on a campus where not only was I the only Black graduate student in my department, but I was one of only about 10 across the entire university. I e-mailed Tyson looking for advice. While I have very little recollection of what happened on the subsequent phone call, I do remember I felt so encouraged that Neil deGrasse Tyson had taken time out of his day to call me, and I remember distinctly that he said what I most needed to hear: that I could do it. Tyson was, yet again, an encouraging role model.
But all of the men who have harassed or assaulted me have said similarly encouraging things, so the fact that I have had multiple positive interactions with Tyson over the years doesn't make it harder to believe that he is guilty of serious misconduct."
Quoted from Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, Scientific American. December 7, 2018.

NAM SAYS WE SHOULD SAY THAT HE HAS
DENIED THE ALLEGATIONS.
WHY DID YOU WANT
TO WRITE THIS ARTICLE?

Chanda says I... YOU KNOW, IT'S FUNNY,
OVER THE YEARS,
I'VE HAD A VERY COMPLICATED
RELATIONSHIP
WITH HOW PEOPLE RESPOND TO THE
EXISTENCE OF NEIL TYSON,
AND WHEN THEY DISAGREE
WITH NEIL TYSON.
AND I DEFINITELY NOTICED
A PATTERN,
THAT PEOPLE WERE
A LITTLE MORE EMOTIONAL
WHEN THEY FOUND THAT THEY WERE
IN DISAGREEMENT WITH HIM.
WHEN HE SAID SOMETHING
ABOUT A MOVIE,
OR ABOUT SCIENCE ON TWITTER
THAT PEOPLE DISAGREED WITH,
PEOPLE WOULD CREATE HASHTAGS
AND SOUND VERY UPSET.
AND SO GOING INTO RESPONDING
TO THE STORY,
I WAS AWARE THAT
BECAUSE HE WAS AFRICAN AMERICAN,
BECAUSE HE WAS
A BLACK MAN,
THAT THERE WERE GOING TO BE
PEOPLE WHO WERE GOING TO SAY,
"DON'T TALK ABOUT IT BECAUSE
YOU'RE BRINGING DOWN THE RACE,
AND YOU HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY
TO PROTECT BLACK MEN,
REGARDLESS OF WHAT THEY MAY
OR MAY NOT HAVE DONE,
AND WHAT'S ALLEGED THAT
THEY HAVE DONE,"
AND THAT THERE WERE
ALSO GOING TO BE PEOPLE
WHO WERE GOING TO SAY, "YEAH, I
TOTALLY BELIEVE THAT ABOUT HIM,"
AND IT WAS CLEARLY
GOING TO BE PARTLY
BECAUSE HE WASN'T WHITE
THAT IT WAS EASIER TO BELIEVE
THAT ABOUT HIM.
SO, I WANTED TO TRY AND PUT SOME
NUANCE INTO THE CONVERSATION,
AND SAY, "LOOK, THIS IS A MAN;
HE'S HAD POSITIVE IMPACT ON ME
AS A FELLOW BLACK PERSON.
AND AT THE SAME TIME,
THAT DOESN'T MEAN
THAT WE CAN IGNORE
THESE ALLEGATIONS.
AND I'M VERY CONCERNED."

Nam says WELL, YOU'VE ALSO MENTIONED YOUR
OWN EXPERIENCES OF ASSAULTS,
AND YOU WROTE ABOUT WHAT
HE WAS ALLEGED TO HAVE DONE.
IS PHYSICS A SAFE PLACE
FOR BLACK WOMEN?

The caption changes to "A safe place?"

Chanda says I MEAN,
I THINK THE QUESTION IS:
IS ANYWHERE A SAFE PLACE
FOR BLACK WOMEN?
THE STORIES THAT I HEAR
FROM BLACK WOMEN IN ALL KINDS
OF PROFESSIONAL-WORKING
ENVIRONMENTS
INDICATE TO ME THAT
MISOGYNOIR,
THE EXPERIENCE OF MISOGYNY
PAIRED WITH ANTI-BLACK RACISM,
IS EVERYWHERE.
SO, I WOULDN'T SAY THAT PHYSICS
IS PARTICULARLY BAD.
IT'S NOT PARTICULARLY GREAT,
EITHER.
SO THAT'S NOT TO SAY POSITIVE
THINGS ABOUT PHYSICS.
IT'S MORE THAT THESE PHENOMENONS
OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE
AND RAPE CULTURE,
IT'S A SOCIAL PROBLEM.
AND PHYSICS IS A COMMUNITY
OF PEOPLE,
WHICH MEANS THAT WE BRING
THE SOCIAL PROBLEMS
FROM LARGER SOCIETY
INTO OUR COMMUNITY AS WELL.
I DO THINK THAT THE NUMBER
OF BLACK WOMEN IN PHYSICS
SHOWS THAT IT IS A PARTICULARLY
HARSH ENVIRONMENT,
EVEN COMPARED TO SAY BIOLOGY.
OR, YOU KNOW,
PARTICLE PHYSICS
IS VERY DIFFERENT
FROM BIOPHYSICS.
THERE ARE A LOT MORE BLACK WOMEN
IN BIOPHYSICS
THAN THERE ARE IN MORE
TRADITIONAL PHYSICS DISCIPLINES.
SO, IT'S CLEAR
THERE ARE DIFFERENCES,
BUT I WOULD SAY I'VE HEARD
HORROR STORIES FROM LAWYERS.
I KNOW THAT WOMEN WHO ARE
WORKING AS HOUSE CLEANERS
AND DOMESTIC WORKERS ALSO FACE
THEIR OWN CHALLENGES
WITH SEXUAL VIOLENCE.
SO, I DON'T THINK PHYSICS
IS SPECIAL.

The caption changes to "Homecoming projects."

Nam says YOU'VE DONE... YOU WRITE A LOT,
ON TOP OF THE WORK THAT YOU DO,
BUT NOW YOU'RE ACTUALLY WRITING
A BOOK,
AND IT'S CALLED
THE DISORDERED COSMOS.
WHAT'S IT LIKE
TO WRITE A BOOK
THAT WILL LIVE ON
BEYOND YOUR LIFE,
AND LOOKING BACK AT THAT
11-YEAR-OLD FALLING IN LOVE
WITH THIS... WITH SCIENCE?

Chanda says SO NO PRESSURE.

[BOTH LAUGH]

NAM SAYS I MEAN,
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU?

Chanda says I AM VERY AWARE OF THE FACT THAT
IT MAY... YOU KNOW, IF IT DOES OK,
THAT THEY MIGHT KEEP PRINTING
IT FOR A WHILE.
IF IT DOESN'T DO OK,
THEN THEY STOP PRINTING IT,
AND MAYBE I DON'T NEED TO
WORRY SO MUCH, RIGHT?
I THINK IT'S VERY CHALLENGING,
PARTICULARLY WITH THIS BOOK,
THAT I'M NOT JUST GOING TO BE
WRITING ABOUT THE SCIENCE
THAT I DO, BUT I'M ALSO GOING TO
BE WRITING ABOUT HOW RACE
AND GENDER SHAPE
SCIENCE,
AND HAVE SHAPED
THE KIND OF SCIENCE THAT I DO,
AND SHAPE BLACK WOMEN'S
EXPERIENCES IN THE SCIENCES.
AND FOR
THAT REASON,
I HAVE DEFINITELY EXPERIENCED
A LOT OF CHALLENGE,
AND I'M ACTUALLY STILL WORKING
THROUGH THIS AS I WRITE.
YOU KNOW,
WHEN I WAS A TEENAGER,
WHEN I WAS 17
AND LEAVING FOR UNIVERSITY,
I WASN'T DREAMING
OF BECOMING AN EXPERT
ON DISCRIMINATION IN PHYSICS.
I WAS DREAMING OF SOLVING
PROBLEMS IN PARTICLE PHYSICS.
AND SO THERE'S A PART OF ME
THAT WANTS TO WRITE A BOOK
FOR THAT GIRL.
AND TO SAY,
"HERE'S A BOOK WRITTEN TO YOU,
WITH YOU IN MIND,
BLACK GIRL DREAMING."
AND AT THE SAME TIME, I DON'T
THINK THAT I CAN WRITE A BOOK
ABOUT... THAT TALKS
ABOUT RACE AND GENDER
WITHOUT TALKING ABOUT PROBLEMS.
AND SO THERE'S A REAL TENSION
OF WANTING TO WRITE A BOOK
THAT CAN BE PUT IN YOUNG
PEOPLE'S HANDS,
AND AT THE SAME TIME,
NOT WANTING TO SCARE THEM
OR MAKE THEM THINK THAT THE
WORLD ISN'T WORTH ENGAGING WITH
AND BEING A PART OF.
AND THAT'S A REAL POINT
OF TENSION.
AND THANK GOD THE BOOK'S
NOT COMING OUT FOR A WHILE,
SO THERE'S SOME TIME
TO THINK IT THROUGH.

The caption changes to "Producer: Gregg Thurlbeck, @GreggThurlbeck."

NAM SAYS WELL, I HOPE YOU CAN
COME BACK WHEN IT COMES OUT,
AND WE CAN TALK TO YOU ABOUT IT.

Chanda says YEAH, YEAH.

NAM SAYS CHANDA, IT'S BEEN SO GREAT
SPEAKING WITH YOU.
I'VE LEARNED SO MUCH.

Chanda says YEAH, THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.

NAM SAYS THANK YOU FOR BEING HERE.

Watch: A Fresh Perspective for Physics