Science is not a subject that is often pushed in the African American community except during black history month when the same scientists of the 20th century and earlier are trotted out again and again to the point that they have lost their meaning other than as place holders. With exception of Neil deGrasse Tyson, most African Americans would be hard pressed to name one 21st century Black scientist.

That is sad commentary about commitment to a discipline that unravels the keys to life and living, especially in areas of genetic research and evolutionary biology that could hold keys to solving medical issues within the Black community such as heart disease and diabetes, but at least one source of help is on the way and in a form that speaks to our youth: hip-hop and Ira Harden. He is a chemistry and physics teacher from City Honors College Preparatory in Inglewood, California and is famous among his students for his science rap videos.

Recently, Harden was one of 26 U.S. educators selected for research flights aboard SOFIA, NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy. As participants in the Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors program, the educators will partner with professional astronomers using SOFIA for scientific observations in 2012 and 2013.[1]

“[The] idea was to give these classroom educators a real experience on how science is actually done,” said Dana Backman, manager of SOFIA’s education and public outreach program.

SOFIA, Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, is NASA’s flying observatory. A very specialized Boeing 747 plane houses a high-powered infrared telescope and flies above the moisture barrier to gather data from space. According to NASA, SOFIA is a modified Boeing 747SP jetliner equipped with a 100-inch (2.5-meter) diameter telescope. The observatory enables the analysis of infrared light to study the formation of stars and planets; chemistry of interstellar gases; composition of comets, asteroids and planets; and supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies.

“The students will be extremely excited about it to know more about what goes on in the universe,” said Harden.

Another recent article featured Harden on TakePart.com titled, “Clip of the Day: Teacher Raps His Way Through Chemistry Lessons.” The article said that Ira makes stoichiometry cool for his high school chemistry class at City Honors College Preparatory Charter School by rapping about it. According to the article Harden’s stoichiometry rap was the cap to a week full of creative presentations on the subject by his pupils. Students presented songs, skits, dances, speeches, music videos, and even video game programming to help learn the ins and outs of stoichiometry.

Joining Harden will be Vincente Washington, another City Honors College Preparatory Charter School teacher. Both Washington and Harden are advisors for the nationally acclaimed Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) program established to encourage minority students with an affinity for the sciences a chance to fulfill those dreams.[2]



[1] Nicholas A. Veronico, Educators Selected to Fly on NASA's SOFIA Airborne Observatory, NASA, January 25, 2012, http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2012/jan/HQ_12-027_SOFIA_Teachers_C...

[2] Advisors reach for the stars, MESA News, Summer/Fall 2012,  http://mesa.ucop.edu/about/history.html

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Tags: NASA, SOFIA, Scientists, astronomy, black, history, science

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Comment by Gene Griffis on December 19, 2013 at 7:38pm

I think George Washington Carver would be very pleased to know that this kind of program and educator was around today. 

Comment by Daniel W (Sentient Biped) on March 5, 2013 at 9:53pm

Don, I know I cant get into someone else's mind and know what they know...  but what you say rings true for me.  Anger towards both Yahweh and Allah seems justified.  But maybe not Thor or Zeus.  They were not in the area, at the time of the crime.

Comment by Donald R Barbera on March 3, 2013 at 8:45pm

Biped, African Americans tend to be more religiously conservative than even white evangelicals. With the viewable evidence to the contrary, African American belief in any god seems wildly out of place. In fact, hostility towards Yahweh might seem more appropriate. I just finished a piece on mind and dexterity as the building blocks of discovery and progress. I am going to post that article now.

Comment by Donald R Barbera on March 3, 2013 at 8:37pm

Although there are more blacks in engineering and research technologies, I believe the God factor is significant factor in blocking African Americans from the hard sciences specifically those that make the existence of a god irrelevant. For me, I think it is a fear of the unknown and it pisses me off that so many won't even look.

Comment by Daniel W (Sentient Biped) on March 3, 2013 at 7:15am

As always thoughtful and important to think about.

I was a research scientist for my first career.  Mainly microbiology, microbial ecology with some biochemical engineering.  It was a primarily all white field, with a handful of grad students from foreign countries.  Mainly China and scattered places around the world, African countries, Middle East, Europe.  That was a while back.

I don't follow academic science much any more.  Other than those who I've been involved with, I cant name many scientists of any ethnicity.  By "many" I'm hard pressed to name more than a couple.

In medicine there is better representation although it's by no means proportionate.  

Harden sounds like an interesting person to know and follow.  It's inspiring to hear about him.

Comment by Luara on March 2, 2013 at 10:01am

There's a famous black physicist, Ronald Mallette

He became obsessed with time travel at an early age, and did research in general relativity to try to come up with a way to travel in time.  He actually found a kind of theoretical way, see his web page above. 

He wrote a popular book about it, Time Traveler.

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