To celebrate Science and Mathematics Week at EKU, Sylvester James Gates, Jr., a retired physics professor, theoretical physicist, National Medal of Science winner and MIT graduate is scheduled to speak at the Chautauqua lecture on Thursday, September 14.
“Dr. Gates is a pioneering scientist and one of the leading figures of his generation in his field,” said Erik Liddell, Chautauqua event coordinator.
Gates’ love for science began when he was just four years old, he said in an interview at NC State University.
Gates said his father came home with books about space travel, and he knew that science was what he wanted to do with his life.
Gates began school in 1957 as the only African-American student in a class of 30 students on a Texas U.S. Army post. He then went to a high school in Florida that provided education to the African-American community. It was there that Gates said his African-American teachers taught him how to strive towards excellence and demand discipline to accomplish high achievements.
Tom Otieno, dean of the College of Science at EKU, said one of the biggest reasons their department wanted to bring Gates to speak for the lecture was because of how much of a promoter he is for science education in the United States.
“Besides being a highly accomplished physicist, Professor Gates is a strong advocate for science and mathematics education,” Otieno said, “and he has achieved national prominence around issues of diversity and inclusiveness in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.”
Gates has spent much of his life working to increase diversity in the scientific field, being the first African-American named to National Academy of Sciences.
“He has been a trailblazer in many ways in his career, helping to transform the field from the start,” Liddell said.
Much of Gates’ work throughout his life has been on supersymmetry, supergravity and superstring theory.
“Supersymmetry” is the attempt to solve fundamental problems in physics by connecting symmetry with all matter and all energy.
Gates also wrote a book with several other physicists on supersymmetry, along with a DVD series explaining his theories to non-physicists.
Though his scientific accomplishments and successes are noteworthy, Otieno said students should not be intimidated by the complexity of his research and theories.
Instead, he said, students should come to hear about his successes in life in diversity and his profession.
“Professor Gates’ personal, academic and professional journey inside and outside the United States of America is very inspirational to both students and non-students alike,” Otieno said.