University of Maryland’s John S. Toll Professor of Physics, Dr. Sylvester James Gates Jr., the first African American to hold an endowed chair in physics at a major U.S. research university, was named 2014 Scientist of the Year by the Harvard Foundation, according to a Feb. 21 news release.

Gates, best known for his work in supersymmetry and supergravity, has been characterized as a physicist who is pursuing an understanding of the fundamental matter of the universe.

The award, given by the foundation for his body of work and for promoting initiatives that serve to increase diversity in all areas of science, engineering and mathematics, is the latest of a stream of plaudits for Gates.

Last year President Obama awarded him the National Medal of Science and Villanova University awarded him the 2013 Mendel Medal. He is a University System of Maryland Regents Professor and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

He also has a reputation for trying to broaden participation in the hard sciences to people of color and has emphasized the need to involve children of color in science training.

“He understands what gets kids interested in science and engineering,” said John P. Holdren, Obama’s science and technology adviser, “and he is a tireless advocate for getting minorities and girls, who are underrepresented in most science and engineering fields, to pursue these subjects.”

“And these skill sets tend to be the kind of skills people who train in science, technology, engineering and mathematics possess,” Gates said in a 2013 interview with the Washington Post. “If we can have Americans fill those jobs, we’re going to have to have an education system that gets them ready for it.

Gates is director of the Center for String and Particle Theory at the University of Maryland.

The award will be presented at a March 28 ceremony by the Harvard University president, the dean of Harvard College and the director of the Harvard Foundation.


Blair Adams

AFRO Staff Writer