Charles Brown honored for research excellence

November 13, 2023

Charles D. Brown II, assistant professor in physics, and an alumnus of Yale’s Wright Lab, has been awarded the Joseph A. Johnson Award for Excellence by the American Institute of Physics (AIP) and the National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP) for his pioneering experimental research.  The Johnson Award also recognizes Brown for diligently supporting the needs of the larger Black physics community and intergenerationally connecting Black physicists across the globe.

In addition, former Wright Lab postdoctoral associate Danielle Speller, now an assistant professor of physics at Johns Hopkins University received one of two honorable mentions for the award.

The Johnson Award honors an early career physicist who exemplifies the scientific ingenuity and passion for mentorship and service of Joseph A. Johnson III ’61 M.S., ’65 Ph.D., the renowned experimental physicist and NSBP founder who was a mentor to many Black doctoral students. The honor comes with a $5,000 award.

“We are excited to recognize Dr. Brown’s impact on the physics community,” said Michael Moloney, CEO of AIP. “He is cultivating breakthroughs in experimental research with ultracold atoms and as a hardworking advocate who connects the Black physics community while shining much-needed light on persistent inequities.”

Brown is an assistant professor of physics in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. He earned his Ph.D. in physics in 2019 at Yale, co-founded the Yale League of Black Scientists, and was one of the lead organizers of #BlackInPhysics week.

“I’m deeply honored to receive the J.A. Johnson III award, especially given our shared experience as Yale physics Ph.D. graduates,” Brown said. “Professor Johnson was an academic leader who was impactful in scientific research on turbulent plasmas, in the lives of students he mentored, and through the organizations that he was instrumental in founding.”

Brown continued, “I’m moved by the idea that I am carrying on the legacy of a historically important physicist like Professor Johnson.”

Brown conducts research at the interface of atomic, molecular, and optical physics (AMO) and condensed matter physics. He uses experimental atomic physics techniques to create synthetic crystals which consist of extremely cold atoms hopping around grids made of light.

These atoms share many similarities with the electrons that hop around the grid of those atoms that make up solids — a relationship that enables Brown to perform quantum simulation experiments with potentially useful new materials.

“These model systems are poised to teach us about so much physics, including exotic phases of mater and quantum field theories,” he said. “They may even be useful for shedding light on physics beyond the standard model.”

Brown added, “I am called to mentor because I’m a scholar that believes the global university system is among the most important creations of our species,” Brown said. “As a scholar, I aim to produce new knowledge through research and to teach and mentor my peers and younger scientists, so that we may have a thriving academic system that continues to produce knowledge and broadly uplift our diverse society for long into the future.”

“Achieving this goal necessitates mentoring and working to increase access so science is done not by a select few, but by a group that reflects society.”

This article is adapted from a Yale News article published on November 12, 2023 by Jim Shelton and the AIP press release, also published on November 12, 2023.

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