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Art students create mural at Sylvania Campus that celebrates diverse scientists
Photos and Story by Celina Baguiao
The Physical Sciences and Art programs collaborated to create the “Faces of Science Mural” on the north side of the ST Building at the Sylvania Campus, which depicts a group of diverse, under recognized scientists.
In fall 2013, chemistry faculty member Ted Picciotto participated in a diversity training and it sparked the idea to create the mural. In line with PCC’s strategic initiative to create a climate of diversity, equity and inclusion, the mural serves to inspire students by highlighting scientists that reflect the diversity of the student body at PCC Sylvania.
“I want all students to feel welcome in the physical sciences department,” project lead Picciotto said. “By sharing the experiences of a diverse group of scientists, we are showing our students that anyone can achieve success in the physical sciences.”
The mural depicts eight scientists — three chemists, three physicists and two geologists.
The artwork was created by three art students — Rich Cortez, Vanessa Kniffen and Shannen Muhl — who were led by PCC Art Instructor Mark Smith. Science student Olivia Crisp and Picciotto wrote the biographies for the eight scientists. Others from across the Sylvania Campus also helped bring the mural to fruition, including Facilities Management Services, the library, the Multicultural Center and the Women’s Resource Center.
Below are shortened versions of the scientists who are depicted in the mural:
Biochemist Marie M. Daly (1921-2003)
Daly is known for her pioneering research in protein synthesis in the cells of the body, the influence of high levels of cholesterol in causing heart attacks, and the correlation between smoking and lung disease. She graduated with her doctorate in chemistry in 1947, not aware at the time that she had become the first African American woman to do so. Throughout her career, she advocated for students of color to be enrolled in medical schools and graduate science programs.
Astronaut Ellen Ochoa (b. 1958)
Ochoa is an accomplished astronaut, having flown on four missions as a mission specialist and flight engineer, logging a total of 900 hours in space. She earned NASA’s Outstanding Leadership Medal (1995) and Exceptional Service Medal (1997) in recognition of her accomplishments. In January 1990, Ochoa was selected for astronaut training, and on April 8, 1993, she launched into orbit for her first mission, becoming the first Hispanic female astronaut in space.
Nuclear Physicist Frederick Begay (1932-2013)
Begay is known for working on NASA’s high-energy gamma ray project and conducting research on nuclear fusion at Los Alamos National Laboratories. He served on numerous advisory committees for education in STEM, investigated cosmic gamma rays as a NASA-funded researcher, and held research fellowships at Stanford University and the University of Maryland. Along with his research, Begay studied how Navajo beliefs were connected to modern science and used his scientific background to assist the Navajo Nation in industry and education. He also was a co-founder of SACNAS, a society that works to advance Hispanics and Native Americans in the sciences.
Oceanographer Marie Tharp (1920-2006)
Tharp shattered the scientific perception of the ocean floor as a muddy flat surface by compiling data to produce one of the first comprehensive maps showing exceptional detail including volcanoes, canyons, and extreme mountain ranges – a key discovery for the theory of plate tectonics. Tharp received numerous awards for her work and was one of the recipients of the National Geographic Society Hubbard Award in 1978. Though she was unrecognized for much of her career, Tharp will be remembered as a pioneer in ocean geology, her work paving the way for the advancement of plate tectonic theory. Today, at the Earth Institute at Columbia University, the Marie Tharp Fellowship is awarded to outstanding women in science.
Nuclear Chemist James A. Harris (1932-2000)
Harris played a pivotal role in the research team who discovered element 104, rutherfordium, and element 105, dubnium. He is credited with particularly meticulous work during the discoveries of these two elements, which allowed other research institutions to successfully reproduce the research and cemented the discoveries. To say he faced obstacles as a black scientist may be somewhat of an understatement. “I could write a book about my job-hunting experiences,” he was later quoted as saying. In 1960, he accepted a position at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, considered to be the most prestigious nuclear physics laboratory in the world, which led to his role as co-discoverer in adding elements 104 and 105 to the periodic table.
Atmospheric Chemist Mario J. Molina (b. 1943)
Molina was co-awarded the Nobel Prize in 1995 for playing a key role in the discovery that CFCs were causing depletion of the ozone layer. Molina was the first Mexican scientist to win a Nobel Prize, and he later donated $200,000 of his Nobel Prize winnings to support young scientists around the world performing research on the environment. He has served as an environmental adviser to presidents of both the United States and Mexico. On August 8, 2013, President Barack Obama awarded Molina the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Geophysicist Claudia J. Alexander (1959-2015)
Alexander was to many a “household name” in the American space program. She was a project manager for the first successful landing of a space probe (the Rosetta) on a comet. Over the course of her career she worked at the United States Geological Survey studying plate tectonics, the Ames Research Center observing Jovian moons, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory managing multiple missions. In addition to her scientific accomplishments, Alexander was an author of multiple children’s books and a vocal advocate for women and people of color in STEM fields.
Geologist Kenneth J. Hsu (b. 1929)
Hsu is considered an expert in environmental issues and is a geologist, paleoclimatologist, and oceanographer. He has lectured or held honorary professorships internationally at leading universities such as Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale, Princeton and M.I.T. He was awarded the Wollaston Medal, previously presented to Charles Darwin and considered the ‘Nobel Prize’ of geology, from the Geological Society of London in 1984.