APS News

TV Series Documents Changing Face of Science in America

In April, Maryland Public Television aired a six-part documentary series profiling 20 contemporary African-American, Latino and Native American scientists and engineers who are making advances in biology, astronomy, physics, mathematics and many other scientific disciplines. Major funding was provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the NSF, with additional contributions from a variety of scientific organizations, including the APS.

Intended to counter the prevailing cultural stereotypes of who scientists are and what they do, the series reached an estimated 60,000 viewers in the Washington, DC and Baltimore areas with programs covering ground-breaking research in genetics, environmental studies, new materials, engineering, mathematics and computer science. Among the many respected scientists profiled was James Gates, a professor of physics at the University of Maryland and president of the National Association of Black Physicists, which also sponsored the series.

The series was accompanied by an extensive outreach effort, designed to alert students, teachers and parents to existing science education services and resources, as well as increase the awareness of the daily contribution minorities make to the sciences, and encourage students of color to pursue careers in science, mathematics and engineering.

For example, activity guides were available to teachers, containing program summaries, discussion questions and a bibliography. A directory of several hundred accomplished scientists and engineers of color was published and distributed to major media outlets, encouraging producers and editors to consider them as subjects and as experts for science-related stories. And in selected areas, those who called an automated toll-free number (1-800-BIG BREAK) received information on informal science opportunities, such as mentoring associations, scholarships, and science career organizations in 30 regions across the country.

On the electronic front, the APS contributed to the production of a database and resource guide accessible via the World Wide Web to hundreds of teachers and students who access "www.blackside.com". On-line visitors have access to spot-lighted, science-related events and activities in their city, conversations with scientists in the series, event calendars, and links to science activities and educational resources on the Web. The broadcast was followed by a CD-ROM Career Navigator, a comprehensive reference tool that includes such items as career and financial aid information, college profiles, and a basic dictionary of science terms.

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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin