Imes Prize and Morehouse Physics Prize


Through a financial gift by Dr. and Mrs. Walter Massey, the National Society of Black Physicists has established the Elmer S. Imes Physics Scholarship and the Morehouse Physics Prize.

"These awards advance three of NSBP's most important concepts - first, providing scholarship assistance to students who are majoring in physics, second, promoting the idea of capacity building at HBCU's, and recognizing the contribution of HBCU's to the vitality of the African American presence in physics and to physics scholarship in general", states Dr. Keith Jackson, President of the National Society of Black Physicists and a 1976 graduate of Morehouse College.

Elmer Imes earned a Ph.D. degree in physics from the University of Michigan in 1918, becoming the second African American to earn a Ph.D. in physics. He served as Professor of Physics and Head of the Physics Department at Fisk University, from 1930 until his death in 1941. In 1918 Imes and Harrison Randall, a preeminent physics researcher at the University of Michigan published a seminal work that opened an entirely new field of research: the study of molecular structure through the use of infra-red spectroscopy. Their work revealed for the first time the detailed spectra of simple-molecule gases, leading to important verification of the emerging quantum theory and providing, for the first time, an accurate measurement of the distances between atoms in a molecule. Imes' work formed a turning point in the scientific thinking, making it clear that quantum theory was not just a novelty, useful in limited fields of physics, but of widespread and general application.

After completing his degree at Michigan, Imes returned to Fisk University where he built a physics program, in fact the first degree granting program in physics at an HBCU. Throughout his years at Fisk, he and many of his students went to Ann Arbor for research collaborations in the vibrational spectroscopy group there. One of those students, James Lawson, later earned a Ph.D. degree in physics at Michigan. Lawson went on to develop the Fisk Infrared Research Laboratory, which is still active today. Willie Hobbs Moore, the first African American female to earn a Ph.D. in physics, also received her degree at Michigan in the vibrational spectroscopy group.

The Morehouse Physics Prize will recognize HBCU graduates who have shown considerable promise as physics researchers and teachers. The prize will include a cash award and a travel grant to present a research lecture at Morehouse College.

Besides Drs. Jackson and Massey, other notable physicists who are Morehouse graduates include Dr. John H. Hopps, Jr., (deceased) former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense, Dr. Charles Brown, a retired Distinguished Science Fellow at Lucent-Bell Labs, and currently Director of International Affairs of NSBP, Dr. Roderic Pettigrew, Director of the National Institute of Bioimaging and Bioengineering, Dr. Mack Roach, Professor of Radiation Oncology at University of California at San Francisco, Drs. Lonzy Lewis and Michael Williams, both are physics professors at Clark Atlanta University, Dr. Vernon Morris, Professor of Chemistry at Howard University, and Dr. Damon Phillips, Professor of Organizations and Strategy at the University of Chicago.

The National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP) was officially founded in 1977. With nearly 600 student and professional members, NSBP is the largest and most recognizable organization devoted to the African American physics community. NSBP's mission is to promote the professional well-being of African American physicists, to develop and support efforts to increase opportunities for African Americans in physics and to increase their numbers and visibility of their scientific work, to develop activities and programs that highlight and enhance the benefits of the scientific contributions that African American physicists provide for the international community, and to raise the general knowledge and appreciation of physics in the African American community.

Ranked twice as the number one college in the nation for educating African American students by Black Enterprise magazine, Morehouse College is the nation's largest, private liberal arts college for African-American men.

Founded in 1867, the College enrolls approximately 3,000 students and confers bachelor's degrees on more black men than any other institution in the world. Morehouse offers a number of programs and activities to enhance its challenging liberal arts curriculum through the Leadership Center at Morehouse College, Morehouse Research Institute, and Andrew Young Center for International Affairs. Morehouse is one of only two Historically Black Colleges or Universities to produce two Rhodes Scholars.

Dr. Walter E. Massey was appointed as the ninth president of Morehouse College in 1995. He is a class of 1958 graduate of Morehouse, and later earned his Ph.D. in physics at Washington University in St. Louis. A noted physicist, he has be on the faculty at Brown University, vice president for research at University of Chicago, Director of the Argonne National Laboratory, senior vice president and provost of the University of California System, and former director of the National Science Foundation, as well as having been elected president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Walter
and Shirley Massey are the parents of two sons.

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