National Society of Black Physicists

22-Aug-07 8:00 PM  CST


For information, contact Charles McGruder at (270) 745-4357.

ARLINGTON, Va. – The National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP) has received a six-year, $350,000 grant from the William K. Kellogg Foundation to help South Africa increase its number of Black astronomers.

Dr. Charles McGruder, NSBP president from 1999-2001 and the William McCormack Professor in Physics at Western Kentucky University (WKU), has long been focusing on capacity building in astronomy on the African continent. This is especially important in South Africa where there has been recently been large investments in telescopes.

South Africa occupies a unique geographical position relative to locations of most of the telescopes in the world. Recognizing this strategic advantage, the South African government has decided to invest heavily in astronomy/astrophysics by building the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), the largest single optical telescope in the southern hemisphere.

Other nations, most notably Japan, Korea, Germany and France, are putting telescopes in South Africa.  South Africa is bidding to host the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) project, the world’s largest radio telescope, and is planning to construct a powerful SKA Pathfinder telescope.

South Africa, however, doesn’t have enough astronomers, especially Black astronomers, says Dr. McGruder.

“As part of apartheid, Black South Africans were discouraged from getting higher degrees in important fields for economic development, specifically science and engineering,” Dr. McGruder said. “Black South Africans today by and large don’t feel that science and engineering are for them.”

To help address this problem, South African universities created the National Astrophysics and Space Sciences Program (NASSP) to provide South African students with master’s level training in astronomy and space science and to serve as a feeder school for doctoral programs.  But the school needed role models and mentors for Black astronomers.

During his term as NSBP President Dr. McGruder received a grant from the National Science Foundation to travel to South Africa to see how NSBP could help the situation.

He determined that members of NSBP could teach in the NASSP acting as role models and mentors, and could get involved in outreach to South Africa’s historically Black colleges and secondary schools to encourage those students to go into science and engineering fields.

“Through our efforts, we have convinced the Kellogg Foundation to fund this project over a six-year period,” said Dr. McGruder, who has been at WKU since 1993 and was head of the Department of Physics and Astronomy from 1993 to 2002.

NSBP, WKU and the University of Cape Town (UCT) are collaborating on the project that will send two American professors per year to South Africa.  “NSBP will not only send professors to teach, but we will also send students to serve as mentors, protégés and eventual colleagues,” said Dr. McGruder, who also serves as a member of the NASSP steering committee. Through this project NSBP, WKU, NASSP and UCT are all expanding their international reach.

Dr. McGruder said the NASSP hopes to reach 100 South African astronomers as quickly as possible and is already having an impact on South Africa. “We’ve had significant success since the school started.  There are now four Black South African astronomers. That’s a great first step from zero,” he said.

The number of astronomers working in South African also has grown to 60 from 36 in 2001 as schools and government agencies hire top-notch astronomers from international countries.

“It’s incredibly impressive what South Africans are doing in astronomy,” Dr. McGruder said. “It’s very important for the international community to support South Africa in its endeavor because it means a lot for science and because it’s helping the country achieve premier status at the world of science.”

About the Kellogg Foundation: The W.K. Kellogg Foundation was established in 1930 “to help people help themselves through the practical application of knowledge and resources to improve their quality of life and that of future generations.” To achieve the greatest impact, the Foundation targets its grants toward specific areas. These include: health; food systems and rural development; youth and education; and philanthropy and volunteerism. Within these areas, attention is given to exploring learning opportunities in leadership; information and communication technology; capitalizing on diversity; and social and economic community development. Grants are concentrated in the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the southern African countries of Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe. For information, visit the Foundation’s Web site at


Western Kentucky University - a leading American university with international reach
University of Cape Town

National Astrophysics and Space Science Programme


For additional information on this release, please contact:
Charles McGruder
Phone: (270) 745-5277
Source: National Society of Black Physicists  
Website: N/A

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