People Profiles Series 2020
Staff and students across Queen Mary University of London are celebrating the work of historical and contemporary Black contributors by sharing their nominations for our ‘People Profile Series’ as part of Black History Month.
Dr Kétévi Assamagan
Dr Kétévi Assamagan is a particle physicist from Brookhaven National Laboratory, USA. He was born in Gabon and raised in Togo where he graduated. He joined the ATLAS experiment, one of the four major experiments at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, in 1998 and has since made important contributions to the construction and integration of various ATLAS subdetectors. He also played a key role in the search and eventual discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012, and coordinated the development of the ATLAS analysis software.
Nominated by: Dr Ulla Blumenschein, School of Physics and Astronomy.
I know Kétévi from my first years as a researcher in the ATLAS experiment at CERN where I started in 2006.”
Dr Idris Assani
Dr Idris Assani is a Professor of Mathematics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is known for his pioneering work in Wiener Wintner Ergodic Theorems. In 2012 his outstanding contributions to the field of mathematics were recognised when he was named an inaugural fellow of the American Mathematical Society.
Nominated by: Professor Alex Clark, School of Mathematical Sciences.
His work in ergodic theory was known to me long before I had any idea of his ethnicity, and was an inspiration to me as a PhD student. When I finally met him I was deeply impressed with his mastery of the subject and his genial personality.”
Alice Ball developed the ‘Ball treatment’ - the most effective treatment for leprosy during the early 20th century. When she was only 23, she developed a technique which allowed chaulmoogra oil, obtained from the seed of the Hydnocarpus wightianus tree, to be safely injected and absorbed by the body. This remained an effective treatment for leprosy until the 1940s when sulphonamide drugs were discovered. Sadly, her research was unpublished because of her untimely death at the age of 24 from chlorine gas poisoning. The work was extended and later published by Arthur L. Dean but her name was not mentioned in the publication.
Nominated by: Dr Henry Oamen, School of Biological and Chemical Sciences.
"Alice Ball was the first woman to receive a master’s degree from the University of Hawaii. Unfortunately, like many during her time, her contribution was ignored and she was not given the proper recognition for her groundbreaking work as a scientist until after her death.”
In 1951 Herman Branson predicted the structure of the α-helix and the β-sheet, the principal secondary structures of proteins, along with Linus Pauling and Robert Corey. Their predictions were were astoundingly correct and have now been seen in tens of thousands of proteins. The discovery of the alpha-helix by model building ranks up there with Watson and Crick’s discovery of the structure of DNA.
Nominated by: Professor Richard Pickersgill, School of Biological and Chemical Sciences.
“Herman Branson plays a similar role to Rosalind Franklin in the well-known story of photo 51 and the structure of DNA, as the overlooked player in the story of the α-helix. It is now time to recognize Branson equally alongside Pauling and Corey in these important fundamental insights into the architecture of proteins.”
Scott Edwards is a Professor of Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University. He is well-known in the field of evolutionary biology specifically on the topics of population genetics, species evolution, coalescent theory, and phylogenetic trees. His research focuses on birds and their relatives, combining field, museum and genomics approaches to understand the basis of avian diversity, evolution and behaviour.
Nominated by: Dr Weini Huang, School of Mathematical Sciences.
“Although his work focuses more on the molecular biology side of evolutionary biology, his papers have inspired many theoreticians like me as well. He is also very active in supporting young scientists. I remember him as a kind person within the scientific advisory board of our institute during my PhD, and he provided many personal suggestions to help PhD students develop their research careers.”
Aprille Ericsson-Jackson is an American aerospace engineer and was the first African-American woman to receive a PhD in Engineering at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Goddard Space Flight Center. She has worked for NASA as an instrument manager for many years, and has been integral to missions sending spacecrafts to other bodies within the solar system. Using her expertise she has helped to manage the orientation and position of a number of NASA spacecrafts and worked on spacecraft stabilisation systems.
Nominated by: Professor Hazel Screen, School of Engineering and Materials Science.
“I personally will be nominating Aprille Ericsson-Jackson, an unsung hero of aerospace engineering and the first African-American woman to achieve a doctorate degree in engineering at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.”
Professor Bertram Fraser-Reid
Professor Bertram Fraser-Reid was a world leader in the development of carbohydrate synthesis. He led the synthesis of the largest synthetic carbohydrate ever made, and was also a mentor and role model for many African-American scientists.
Nominated by: Dr Gabriel Cavalli, School of Engineering and Materials Science.
“As a young MRes student from Uruguay, I attended my first international conference in 1994 in Brazil, where Professor Fraser-Reid was the main speaker. While I was a novice and utterly inexperienced to fully grasp his credentials, I got the vibes from the room. Everyone was in awe of Professor Fraser-Reid and his accomplishments in the field, in a magnitude that was not paralleled by any of the multiple international speakers that had been invited. My supervisor, who had done his PhD in the USA, was utterly starstruck. We are rightfully starting to address the imbalance in recognition and representation in academia, but in 1994, the situation was much worse. As I progressed in my own career, even though I eventually departed from this scientific field, I realised the magnitude of his contribution. He was certainly thought of merit for a Nobel Prize.”
Sir Walter Lincoln Hawkins
Born in 1911 Sir Walter Lincoln Hawkins was orphaned as a young child and raised by his sister. Despite his difficult upbringing he completed a doctoral degree at McGill University. In 1942, he accepted a position at AT&T’s Bell laboratories in New Jersey, becoming the first Black member of staff. Here he worked on polymers, specifically on the stabilisation of polymers for their use in telecommunications. In 1956 Hawkins, together with Victor Lanza, invented a polymer with antioxidants that prevented deterioration even in extreme temperatures. The plastic cable sheath began widespread production in the 1960s and became widely used as an inexpensive, durable, and safe coating for telecommunications wires. It is still used to protect fibre optic cables today.
Nominated by: Dr Ruth Rose, School of Biological and Chemical Sciences.
"I discovered the lengths and depths of Sir Hawkins achievements as I started to become more interested in polymer chemistry. I was impressed by the variety of scientific contributions he had made, not just in polymer synthesis but analysis also. However, I was particularly struck that he had managed to achieve such prestige and success on a backdrop of family tragedy and prejudice. In his later life he used his position to support, mentor and facilitate a pathway for the future generations, which shows a generosity of spirit and is really inspiring."
Mary W Jackson
Mary W Jackson was the first African-American female engineer at NASA. However, her career path to becoming an engineer with NASA was not straightforward. After graduating from the Hampton Institute in 1942 with a dual degree in Maths and Physical Sciences, she had to do several jobs such as teaching, bookkeeping and working as an army secretary at Fort Monroe. Finally, she got the opportunity to work for the engineer Kazimierz Czarnecki who gave her the chance to conduct experiments in a Supersonic Pressure Tunnel, which blasted winds at twice the speed of sound. On his suggestion, she entered a training programme to be promoted from mathematician to engineer. For this she had to gain special permission to study in the same class as her white colleagues.
Nominated by: Shreya Suresh, School of Biological and Chemical Sciences.
“The rarity of female engineers and challenges for Black women in science make her career and achievements even more impressive. Apart from Mary Jackson’s contribution to scientific understanding of the “boundary layer effects on aerospace vehicles at supersonic speeds”, I admire her humanitarian spirit and the way she always looked to combine science with helping others to achieve. It is also incredibly motivating for me to see a woman achieve so much in STEM despite the obstacles she was presented with.”
Professor Clifford Johnson
Professor Johnson is a British academic who has made significant contributions to string theory and more broadly, theoretical high energy particle physics. He is currently a Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Southern California, USA. He is also a frequent blogger and excellent science communicator.
Nominated by: Dr Costis Papageorgakis, School of Physics and Astronomy.
Professor Johnson is not only a prize-winning scientist, he is also a charismatic persona who inspires young students of all colours and backgrounds to do physics. I was one of those students as his MSc advisee in 2003."
Dr Lonnie Johnson
Dr Lonnie Johnson is an aerospace engineer that has worked in the US Air Force and NASA, including NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He is also the inventor of the Super Soaker and the first Nerf guns, which have gone on to be some of the bestselling toys of all time.
Nominated by: Joe Davies, School of Physics and Astronomy.
“So many children across the world have spent weeks and weeks, over many summers, having a great time with his inventions. I remember as a kid playing outside with friends using super soakers and other water pistols like it. I don't know of many people that haven't at least once picked one up, and the people that have, all have had such a good time with them.”
Katherine Johnson was an American mathematician who worked at NASA. She is most famous for her critical contribution to crewed missions - her calculations of the capsule trajectory in orbit were preferred to those done by a computer. Over her 33 years at NASA, she contributed to multiple missions including sending the first American astronaut into space, calculating the trajectory of a first crewed mission to orbit the earth, as well as the famous moon landing mission Apollo 11.
Nominated by: Aleksandra Olszewska, School of Biological and Chemical Sciences.
“I wanted to nominate Katherine Johnson because throughout her life she had multiple challenges and expectations she had to overcome. Not only was she a woman but she was also Black, and therefore on a daily basis she had to fight with gender bias and racial segregation. She is a true example of resilience. Her contribution to NASA allowed many other women to follow in her steps, she fought to allow women to attend editorial meetings at her branch in NASA and was one of the first women to author or co-author research reports. She is a true role model and should be remembered for her contribution to science.”
Professor Cato Laurencin
Professor Cato Laurencin is a Professor at the University of Connecticut and founder of the field of Regenerative Engineering. He completed his undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering at Princeton before undertaking a simultaneous MD at Harvard and PhD at MIT. He has won awards for his work at the engineering orthopaedics interface covering bone and soft tissue repair. He has also won the US National Medal of Technology and Innovation, America's highest honour for technological advancement.
Nominated by: Professor Elizabeth Tanner on behalf of the Materials Division, School of Engineering and Materials Science.
As one of the organisers of the World Biomaterial Congress 2020 I am very much looking forward to hearing him give the Acta Biomaterialia Gold Medal lecture at the Congress in December. This is one of the five major awards he has received in 2020 alone.”
Dr Thomas O Mensah
Ghanaian-born Dr Thomas O Mensah was one of the pioneers in the development of practical optical fibres for high speed digital networks, or fibre optic technology. His work at Corning and later at AT&T Bell Labs helped to develop high speed fibre drawing techniques which proved to be critical advances in the 1980’s when optical fibres began to be installed in large quantities.
Nominated by: Professor Peter Hobson, School of Physics and Astronomy.
“Dr Thomas O Mensah shows just what can be achieved in applied science research and demonstrates a remarkable capacity for both academic and entrepreneurial success over many years. His background growing up in Ghana, and then working for two top companies in the USA is impressive and inspirational.”
Charles Henry Turner
Charles Henry Turner was a pioneer in animal cognition, establishing a research programme in the late 19th and early 20th century that was in sharp contrast to existing ideas on this subject. He published over 70 papers comparing brain anatomy in birds and invertebrates showing individual variations in behavior and learning, and examples of intelligent problem solving – at a time when most scientists only credited animals with the simplest of learning abilities.
Despite publishing many important papers, Turner was not given a post at a major US research university position and his work was conducted without access to state-of-the-art laboratory facilities or library resources, which makes his achievements even more remarkable.
Nominated by: Professor Lars Chittka, School of Biological and Chemical Sciences.
"The list of Turner’s discoveries and insights that should have garnered attention, but did not, is long.
"Every student of animal behavior knows Nikolaas Tinbergen’s study from 1932 on spatial learning, where the later Nobel laureate first marked a beewolf’s nest entrance with pine cones, then moved them to demonstrate that the insect was guided by a memory of the landmarks, but it is mostly unknown that Turner had already published similar findings in 1908."
Stephanie D Wilson
Stephanie D Wilson is a NASA astronaut who is a veteran of three spaceflights STS-121, STS-120, and STS-131. In total, she has logged more than 42 days in space. Dr Wilson earned her Bachelor of Science in Engineering Science from Harvard University in 1988, before achieving her Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas. Her graduate research was sponsored by a NASA Graduate Student Researchers Fellowship, and focused on the control and modelling of large, flexible space structures. She was selected by NASA as an astronaut in April 1996 and flew her first space shuttle mission in 2006, and subsequent shuttle missions in 2007 and 2010.
Nominated by: Professor Vassili Toropov, on behalf of the Division of Aerospace Engineering and Fluid Mechanics, School of Engineering and Materials Science.
Dr Wilson is an outstanding researcher and a role model for the new generation of engineers.”
"I first met Stephanie in February 2007 when Dr Piers Sellers, a Leeds University graduate and NASA astronaut, visited Leeds University where I was working at the time with other Space Shuttle mission STS-121 crew members. Since then we’ve met at several conferences of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, of which we are both Associate Fellows."
Annie Catherine Brewster was born on the island of Saint Vincent in the Caribbean in 1858. Her father was a wealthy merchant from Barbados who settled in South London in the 1860s with his family.
In 1881 Annie Brewster entered the London Hospital as a trainee nurse and was appointed to the hospital's nursing staff in 1884. She was promoted to nurse in charge of the Ophthalmic Wards in 1888. Brewster became known as 'Nurse Ophthalmic' because of her work with elderly patients who were losing their sight.
Annie died aged 43 after an emergency operation in the London Hospital on 11 February 1902. The matron of the London Hospital, Eva Luckes, wrote of Brewster that: “She had spent the best and happiest years of her life at the London Hospital... With her quick intelligence she became very skilful in the treatment of ‘eyes’ and her kindness to the poor old people who passed through her hands during this period was unwearied. Hospital friends mourn her loss and keep her in affectionate remembrance.”
In 2018, Annie Brewster was one of a number of figures whose photographs were projected onto the facade of the former Royal London Hospital building in Whitechapel to mark the 70th anniversary of the NHS.
Arthur Wint MBE, known as the Gentle Giant, was born in Jamaica in 1920. He was sent to Britain for active combat during World War II as a pilot, leaving the Royal Air Force in 1947 to attend St Bartholomew's Hospital as a medical student through a Colonial Development and Welfare scholarship.
In the 1948 London Games, Wint won Jamaica’s first Olympic gold medal for the 400 metres (46.2 seconds) and a silver medal for the 800 metres.
Wint later returned to Jamaica to work at the Surgical Unit of the University College of the West Indies, returning periodically to the UK to undertake further training in surgery and forensic medicine.
In 1974 he was appointed High Commissioner to England and in 1982, Wint merged his love of sports and medicine and was a founding member of the Sports Medicine Association.
Arthur Wint retired from hospital work in August 1985 but continued running his own private practice until his death in 1992.
Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw
Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw is an American Lawyer, civil rights advocate and leading scholar of critical race theory who developed the theory of intersectionality in 1989. She is a Professor at the UCLA School of Law and Columbia Law School and specialises in race and gender issues. She is best known for her work on intersectionality, having published multiple books on the subject. Her scholarship was also influential in the development of intersectional feminism which examines the overlapping systems of discrimination which women are subject to due to their ethnicity, sexuality and economic background.
Nominated by: Professor Rainbow Murray, School of Politics and International Relations.
"Kimberlé coined the phrase “intersectionality” that has been so influential in the social sciences more broadly in helping us to understand how different forms of marginalisation intersect.
"She demonstrated how the lived experience of black women is different both from black men and white women, and that we cannot think about race or gender in silos but must recognise that their intersections create distinctive types of oppression that need to be overcome.”
Gloria Jean Watkins, better known by her pen name, bell hooks, is an American author, professor, feminist and social activist. The name, bell hooks, is borrowed from her great grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks. Much of the focus of bell hooks’ writing has focused on the intersectionality of race, capitalism and gender and the perpetuation of oppression through them. Her most famous work, Ain’t I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism, was published in 1981 where she argued that the convergence of sexism and racism during slavery contributed to Black women having the lowest status and worst conditions of any group in American society.
Nominated by: Professor Rainbow Murray, School of Politics and International Relations.
“She is a prolific author and scholar who has made numerous seminal contributions to the social sciences. Her book Ain’t I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism was instrumental in challenging white feminism to be more inclusive and discussing the importance of Black feminism. Another book, Feminism is for Everybody, develops not only the theme of racially diverse feminism but also the importance of including men within the feminist movement. We Real Cool - Black Men and Masculinity is also one of the most important books within the field of masculinity studies.
She is an incredibly original and influential thinker who has had great influence within politics, gender studies, social studies, cultural criticism, and literature - she even writes poetry!”
Charles V Hamilton
Professor Charles V Hamilton is a political scientist and civil rights leader. He was based at Columbia University from 1969 until 1998 and was one of the first African Americans to hold a chair at an Ivy League university. Hamilton was also a pioneer of the study of Black politics in the United States and is most famous for his book, co-authored with Stokely Carmichael (later Kwame Ture), Black Power: The Politics of Liberation, published in 1967. Hamilton was involved in the civil rights struggle as a student and young academic. He befriended many of the great leaders of the movement: Martin Luther King, John Lewis, and Stokely Carmichael. He also became a consultant for the national Democratic Party and was active in the world anti-apartheid movement, visiting South Africa over one hundred times.
Nominated by: Dr Richard Johnson, School of Politics and International Relations.
“Hamilton’s work was central to my DPhil research on Black candidates competing in predominantly white electorates. He pioneered the concept of ‘deracialisation’, an emphasis on issues with universal reach (such as full employment and universal healthcare) as a strategy of winning elections.
"Deracialisation later became a strategy deployed by African American candidates to appeal to predominantly white audiences and has been credited with the elections of black mayors, governors, senators, and even a president.
Hamilton’s combination of intellectual rigour, strategic astuteness, and political engagement make him one of the most important Black political scientists of the last half century.”
Anna Julia Cooper
Anna Julia Cooper (1858-1964) was an American author, educator, sociologist, speaker, Black liberation activist and one of the most prominent African-American scholars in US history. She was also the fourth Black woman and first woman from the District of Columbia to receive a PhD. Cooper’s book A Voice from the South (1892), developed an early intersectional and international analysis of gender.
The book ranges over a series of issues concerning black women’s position within the US state, and their position within struggles for greater freedom and representation waged by feminist, anti-racist and labour movements. Over the last few decades, Cooper’s work has become increasingly recognised as important and influential for a range of disciplines and fields within the Humanities and Social Sciences, this includes the fields of Sociology, Gender Studies, Feminist Theory, Africana Studies and Education.
Nominated by: Professor Kim Hutchings, School of Politics and International Relations.
“Anna Julia Cooper’s work bowls me over. It is so prescient for many of the issues that dominate contemporary discussions around gender, race and coloniality, but it is also far too little read and recognised in my home disciplines of Political and International Theory.”
Deanna Lyncook is a Queen Mary graduate, after studying History and English Literature (2015-2018) and is currently finishing her masters dissertation at the University of Birmingham. Her dissertation, We cannot agree to accept coloured women for service in this country’. Caribbean Women in Britain, 1939 -1990, is part of a masters in Social Research.
Deanna recently launched a weekly podcast called The History Hotline where she discusses events and individuals that have shaped Black history in Britain. As a historian she believes that there is a long way to go in addressing systemic and societal racism however feels that with a decolonised curriculum in both higher and lower education steps can be made towards that. Deanna's other research interests include Caribbean history and literature, and she is particularly interested in the way Caribbean history is influenced by, and influences, British history in the 20th Century.
Nominated by: Professor Dan Todman, School of History.
“There is a under representation of Black historians both in history in the UK as a field and specifically within our School of History itself. We are trying to address this through a wide range of actions, including the implementation of the Royal Historical Society’s recommendations in its report on Race and Ethnicity. Another part of addressing this is to celebrate the achievements of a rising generation of Black historians.
"Deanna graduated from Queen Mary in 2015 and her podcast, The History Hotline, is an excellent example of her latest work. I am in awe of her ability to draw listeners in with her expertise, explanation and delivery. Deanna is an example of a rising star who is making a valuable contribution to the field.”
Professor Nelarine Cornelius is the Associate Dean for Academic Staff Development and Professor of Organisation Studies in Queen Mary’s School of Business and Management. Professor Cornelius’ research is in the areas of social justice, business in society and the evolution of management practices in emerging, fragile economies. She obtained her PhD (on an MRC scholarship) from the University of Manchester and has worked in the areas of management and organisational development at General Motors Europe and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets before entering higher education.
Additionally, Professor Cornelius is an eminent thought leader who holds high-level roles outside the university, serving as Co-Vice Chair of Research and Publications for the British Academy of Management, Vice President of Membership and Professional Development for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and a distinguished member of the prestigious Paris Research in Norms, Management and Law group.
Nominated by: Dr Mustafa Ozturk, School of Business and Management.
“Professor Cornelius is a truly extraordinary academic, who has made a lasting impact on multiple areas of research and practice, and influenced countless students, academics, business leaders, HR practitioners, and organisations through her superb scholarship.
"In a prolific career marked by many amazing achievements, she has published outstanding research in key areas that include equality in organised life, business and society, and management in emerging economies. Professor Cornelius has a keen sense of justice, and she has an exceptional capacity to think about complex problems from an interdisciplinary perspective.
"Her richly formed theoretical vision has led her to utilise and repurpose the capabilities approach in a wholly novel, significant and exciting way to work out enduring puzzles and challenges surrounding equality, diversity, and inclusion. Her research has sharpened and expanded our understanding of race and gender issues at work, and she has shaped the field as a leading thinker in the area of equality, diversity and inclusion.
"Her work on corporate social responsibility has been equally deep and impactful, as she has provided powerful and insightful analyses of business organisations’ role in society, and thus shed light on ways of achieving a better, more liveable and sustainable future for us all. Her interest in management ideas, norms, and ways of doing business in emerging economies has brought in new directions and dimensions to our understanding of how business operates in developing country settings, and moved the concerns of people from forgotten geographies to the academic centre stage. She is the rare academic whose works straddle across disciplinary and methodological boundaries, delivering massive knowledge gains along the way.
“As a Black woman academic, Professor Cornelius has inspired, empowered, and supported BAME academics and students tirelessly throughout her career. As a BAME academic myself, I often feel dismayed by the slow pace of progress towards full equality, yet Professor Cornelius’ inclusive leadership gives me that rare glimpse of hope for a fairer society. I know I am not alone in finding continual motivation, succour and courage in Professor Cornelius’ pre-eminent example.
"As I face challenges as an ethnic minority academic at Queen Mary and an ethnic minority citizen in the UK, I feel full of hope as I look to Professor Cornelius. She embodies change, and constantly upholds the possibility of a better world based on the principle of equality for all. She is a beacon of light that helps us believe that the fight for social justice is one that we can win, despite the outsized challenges we face.”
Alicia George is an Events Officer in Queen Mary’s School of Business and Management and joined the University in July 2016. She has worked across a series of conferences, colloquiums, research seminars, away days the annual yearbook project, alumni and student networking events in the UK and overseas. In addition, she manages the School of Business and Management’s student ambassadors, has sat on interview panels, a series of working groups within the school and is the professional services lead for BreakThrough!, a Bangladeshi Women’s Career Group, running a series of regular events including The Women’s Café since 2018.
Prior to joining Queen Mary Alicia worked for the University of West London and has eight years’ experience working in Higher Education events and five years’ experience in Public Relations working on global brands. She holds a BA Hons degree in Journalism from Staffordshire University, a Prince 2 Practitioner certificate in project management and by the end of October will obtain her masters in Event, Design and Management from the University of Westminster.
Nominated by: Dr Ishani Chandrasekara, School of Business and Management.
“Alicia’s contribution to student engagement and staff wellbeing has been remarkable. Since Alicia took over the role we have had so many social events and activities. Alicia makes such a difference to our School. She is an amazing role model to our students and staff and is a pleasure to work with.”