Celebrated theoretical physicist, feminist theorist, author, and activist Chanda Prescod-Weinstein will deliver the keynote address at this year’s Aims of Education event on Aug. 23 at 4 p.m. The presentation will be available via Zoom and is open to the public.

Interested members of the Virginia Tech and wider community are encouraged to register for the event here.

This is the 10th year for the Aims of Education address, which connects roughly 900 students and the affiliated faculty of the Residential College at West Ambler Johnston. The event, which will be held virtually this year, offers an intellectual space for students and the university community to consider the meaning and power of a university education. The address will take the form of a conversation between Prescod-Weinstein and Mauro Caraccioli, an assistant professor of political science and core faculty in the Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought (ASPECT) in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences at Virginia Tech.

Prescod-Weinstein is an assistant professor of physics and core faculty member in women’s and gender studies at the University of New Hampshire. With a strong desire to understand the unknown, her current research covers a multitude of subjects, including: particle physics, astrophysics, cosmology, the aftermath of inflation, and technical issues in quantum field theory in curved spacetime.

Her interest in science as a human endeavor contributes to her work as an activist for equal opportunity.

“She is a scholar who thinks far beyond her discipline. [She is] a theorist and activist who writes brilliantly about racism in science, about feminist approaches to scholarship and living, and about the meaning of science for individuals,” said Danna Agmon, faculty principal for the Residential College West Ambler Johnston and an associate professor of history.

The Aims of Education event provides the opportunity for students to engage with scholars, activists, artists, and teachers and to learn about the meaning of education. Students and the university community are encouraged to consider their goals, achievements, and varying perspectives as they begin the new academic year. Since the event is open to the public, the wider community will also have the opportunity to engage with Prescod-Weinstein’s ideas during the webinar.

“All of our students will also receive a copy of Dr. Prescod-Weinstein's new book, ‘The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred,’” said Agmon.

The students of West Ambler Johnston will have reading circles and group discussions throughout the fall as an extension of the conversation that will take place during the address.

Prescod-Weinstein holds degrees from Harvard College and the University of California. She obtained her Ph.D. from the University of Waterloo, where she was a researcher at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics and completed her doctoral dissertation, “Cosmic Acceleration as Quantum Gravity Phenomenology.” Her passions in early universe cosmology, theoretical physics, feminist theory, and in advocating for equality in science have pushed her to extraordinary academic and social achievements throughout the years. 

She has held a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, joining Professor Alan Guth, who is also known as the father of cosmic inflation theory, and his group in the Center for Theoretical Physics. She has also studied the capacity for weak gravitational lensing on the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope during her NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellowship.

In addition to her contributions to theoretical physics and astrophysics, Prescod-Weinstein has dedicated her time to advocating for students and equal opportunity in education, specifically for minorities who do not always have the same representation in STEM fields. She told VICE Motherboard in a 2020 interview, “At this point, I'm very aware that a lot of the issues that I faced have not changed...something that has changed is now students have someone like me to come to.” 

Prescod-Weinstein was a founding and executive member for the American Astronomical Society Committee for Sexual-Orientation and Gender Minorities in Astronomy (SGMA) for six years. She has also worked to promote Black physicists as a committee chair, past ex-officio board member, and past conference co-chair of the National Society of Black Physicists. Expanding her voice in advocacy, she works more broadly with underrepresented minorities to widen participation in physics, currently working as an active member of both the National Society of Hispanic Physicists and the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in the Sciences (SACNAS).

Her accomplishments are widely celebrated. Prescod-Weinstein has most recently been awarded the 2021 American Physical Society Edward A. Bouchet Award. In 2020, she was named as one of 10 people who helped shape science, as part of Nature’s 10. She was also recognized by Essence Magazine as one of the 15 Women Who are Paving the Way in STEM and Breaking Barriers, and VICE Motherboard named her as one of their Humans2020

“Being part of the address is a chance to think deeply about what we all want to get out of the time we share together at Virginia Tech and how it has the potential to change both our lives and the world around us,” said Agmon.

Written by Tayten Allison