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Raymond L. Johnson

Mathematician Raymond L. Johnson was born on June 25, 1943 in Alice, Texas, a small town near Corpus Christi. He was raised by his mother Johnnie Johnson, his maternal grandmother Ethel Pleasant Johnson, and her second husband Benjamin Thompson. Growing up, it was Benjamin Thompson who taught Johnson how to read and do some arithmetic. This sparked an early interest in mathematics and allowed Johnson to skip the first two grades. Johnson attended a two room schoolhouse because the nearby grade school was segregated. With the help of his mentors, Larry O’Rear and Stan Brooks, Johnson excelled in high school mathematics. He went on to major in mathematics and received his B.A. degree from the University of Texas in 1963.

Once again, with the help and encouragement of a great mentor, Dr. Howard Curtis, Johnson applied and became one of the first African Americans to be admitted to Rice University. Two alumni sued the university to stop Johnson’s entrance, but within the year, Rice University won the case. Johnson became a regular student, graduating with his Ph.D. degree in mathematics in 1969. After college, Johnson started his forty year career at the University of Maryland in College Park, becoming the first African American faculty member in the mathematics department. He began as an assistant professor in 1968 and became a full professor in 1980.

Johnson served as chair of the graduate studies department at the University of Maryland from 1987 to 1990. As chair, he founded several programs to eliminate barriers for minority students and to help increase the number of minorities and women in the Ph.D. program in mathematics. He received a Distinguished Minority Faculty Award for his work. Johnson was promoted to chair of the mathematics department in 1991, a position he held for five years. Johnson’s mathematical work has focused in the area of harmonic analysis, the study of overlapping waves, which has roots in functions related to trigonometry. He has contributed to over twenty-five publications on mathematics research. Johnson’s current research focuses on applying harmonic analysis to study spectral synthesis. In 2007, Johnson was honored with the Mentor Award for Lifetime Achievement from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 2009, Johnson returned to Rice University to serve as a visiting professor. He has one son, Malcolm P. Johnson.

Raymond L. Johnson was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on August 17, 2012.

Accession Number

A2012.193

Sex

Male

Interview Date

8/17/2012

Last Name

Johnson

Marital Status

Divorced

Middle Name

L

Schools

Dubose Intermediate

Carver Elementary

William Adams High School

University of Texas at Austin

Rice University

First Name

Raymond

Birth City, State, Country

Alice

HM ID

JOH41

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Texas

Favorite Vacation Destination

Europe

Favorite Quote

Don't look back. Someone might be gaining on you.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Texas

Birth Date

6/25/1943

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Houston

Country

United States

Favorite Food

All Food

Short Description

Mathematician and math professor Raymond L. Johnson (1943 - ) led the way for minority scientists by breaking through barriers and serving as a mentor. He is known for his research on harmonic analysis and spectral synthesis.

Employment

University of Maryland, College Park

Rice University

Howard University

ESSO PRDD RES

Favorite Color

None

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Raymond Johnson's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Raumond Johnson lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Raymond Johnson describes his mother's side of the family

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Raymond Johnson describes his mother's life in Alice, Texas

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Raymond Johnson discusses similarities and differences from his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Raymond Johnson describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Raymond Johnson describes growing up in Alice, Texas

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Raymond Johnson describes the sights and sounds and smells of growing up

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Raymond Johnson describes his family in Alice, Texas

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Raymond Johnson describes his early school-days

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Raymond Johnson describes his experience in a newly-integrated school system

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Raymond Johnson describes growing up during segregation

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Raymond Johnson discusses the sports heroes of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Raymond Johnson describes those who influenced his decision to attend college

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Raymond Johnson describes his experience in high-school

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Raymond Johnson describes his experience at the University of Texas

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Raymond Johnson describes his experience with the American Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Raymond Johnson describes the mentorship he received in high school and college

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Raymond Johnson describes the post-Sputnik climate in the United States

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Raymond Johnson shares pleasant memories from the University of Texas

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Raymond Johnson describes the summer of 1963

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Raymond Johnson describes his first year at Rice University

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Raymond Johnson shares his thoughts on the presidencies of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Raymond Johnson describes his relationship with NFL player, Frank Ryan

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Raymond Johnson describes his experiences at Rice University

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Raymond Johnson describes his experience with his graduate advisor, Jim Douglas

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Raymond Johnson describes his Ph.D. dissertation research

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Raymond Johnson describes his transition from graduate school to his first job

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Raymond Johnson describes the tension following Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Raymond Johnson describes his experience at the University of Maryland

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Raymond Johnson describes his brief experience at Howard University

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Raymond Johnson describes his service as the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Raymond Johnson describes his service as the chairman of the mathematics department

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Raymond Johnson describes collaboration among African American mathematicians

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Raymond Johnson discusses prominent African American mathematicians

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Raymond Johnson talks about his family

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Raymond Johnson talks about the Mentor Award for Lifetime Achievement

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Raymond Johnson talks about the first generation of African American mathematicians

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Raymond Johnson reflects upon his legacy at the University of Maryland and at Rice University

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Raymond Johnson describes one of his successes as a mentor

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Raymond Johnson discusses meeting Ron [Ronald] Walters

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Raymond Johnson reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Raymond Johnson discusses his concerns for African American mathematicians

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Raymond Johnson describes his relationship with Freeman Hrabowski

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Raymond Johnson talks about his son

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Raymond Johnson's reflects upon how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$2

DAStory

5$1

DATitle
Raymond Johnson describes his experience in high-school
Raymond Johnson describes his experience in a newly-integrated school system
Transcript
Okay, now, I don't wanna get you out of high school yet.$$Okay.$$But we'll go back to, to high school [at Williams Adams High School, Alice, Texas] for a second. Now, did you, were you involved in clubs and stuff in high school or run for student government or--$$No, not for student government. But I was involved in clubs. So this is the National Honor Society, 'cause I mean I think that was, I don't know what the conditions were for getting in it, but, you know, I was a member of the National Honor Society. And that's where I met like, you know, other people who were very, very smart and who also were very competitive. I mean, you know, I remember the competition for valedictorian, for example, of Alice High School. I was not involved in the competition, but I was observing it. And, you know, having people sort of take easy classes and try to make sure they could keep their grade point average up and have a better chance of being valedictorian. I mean I remember that was sort of the first time I learned about, you know, that sort of social aspect of learning. I thought you just went to school and you did the best you could and, you know, and you graduated, and then you go on and keep doing the best you can. But there were actually these people who were competing to be valedictorian.$$Okay, and--$$And they were all in National Honor Society.$$And strategizing what kind of class they're gonna take to--$$Yeah, yeah.$$--to get there.$$--to make sure that they had the highest GPA [Grade Point Average].$$Okay,--$$And no socializing. I mean, you know, I don't remember prom, you know, or anything like that. But did go to the football games for the Alice Coyotes, you know, football team. It was a long walk, but, you know, it was worth it. And socializing in that sense.$$Okay. So the foot--the high school was named William Adams--$$William Adams, yeah, and the Alice Coyotes was the football team.$$Okay, so they, okay, all right. So they called the football team, not the Adams' Coyotes, but the Alice Coyotes?$$The Alice Coyotes.$$Okay (laughter), all right.$$It was for the whole city.$$All right. Now, football is, when you think of football, people think of Texas for some, you know, some reason.$$Yep, Friday night.$$High school, Friday night lights and all that sort of thing. So what, was it really big in Alice?$$Oh, yeah, yeah. I mean, well, first of all (laughter), there's nothing else to do in Alice, okay. So, I mean it was really big, and, you know, for a kid like me who didn't have any money, I mean getting into the game was non-trivial. I climbed a fence a few times to get into the game, but sometimes after halftime, they'd sort of let you into the game. So, you know, we, it wasn't, I don't remember like them saying, okay, because you go to, here, here's a free pass because you're a student at Alice High School. I mean there was supposed to be like a two dollar or dollar charge or something like that. So sometimes I'd just go to the game and wouldn't actually get to see the game. But the team, you know, I think they competed for the state championship. They had some very good players. I don't, don't remember their names or exactly how well they did, but they, they had a very good football team.$$Okay, any players make--$$The only one I remember, I think was a quarterback named Len Baillets (ph.), but, you know, I don't think he did very much in college or anything like that, but he was the star of the Alice football team.$$Okay, all right, so when you graduated, did you, did they tell you what rank you were or anything?$$You know, I was, I was the top ten. But that's all I remember. And, and that was the last graduation I attended. So I actually did go to my graduation in high school.$$Okay, but you didn't go to any of the rest of 'em?$$Nah.$Okay, yeah, tell us, now, what happened next in school now? You're, you're--$$So after eighth grade, Alice [Texas] didn't have enough black students, and so the Alice school district had an arrangement with the Kingsville [Texas] school district. So grades nine through twelve were bused from Alice to Kingsville which is twenty-eight miles, and I knew classmates who had ridden the bus and had gone to school in Kingsville. And I was looking forward to it 'cause in a sense, it's a chance to get out of Alice, at least for a, for a day, every day. But 'Brown versus Board' was decided, and the Alice school district decided to live up to it, accept 'Brown versus Board'. So I spent ninth grade in DuBoise [DuBoise Junior High School, Alice, Texas], which is the first time I'd gone to an integrated junior high school, I mean it was junior high school at that time. So you just went for ninth grade, and then high school was William Adams [Williams Adams High School, Alice, Texas], grade ten through twelve, which was also integrated.$$Okay.$$DuBoise was-I was, it was lucky for me in the sense that the main thing that I recall that happened to me at DuBoise was they discovered that I couldn't see. You know, in Alice, in this two-room school, the boards were very close, and so, you know, it was a very small room, four, four, four grades cramped into one room. So I didn't have any problem seeing everything. But then when I went to DuBoise, you're in this classroom, and, you know, there's thirty seats in a room and the board up at the front. And I couldn't see. So I got glasses, and that I think (laughter) helped a lot 'cause that meant I could see what was actually going on in class.$$Do you remember how you discovered, how, how it was discovered you couldn't see?$$No, I don't remember, but, you know, somehow I, I wasn't seeing what was on the board, and so they, they sent me, they told my, told my mother that I need to have an eye test. I had an eye test, and they discovered I needed glasses.$$So the teacher noticed it.$$Yeah, the teacher noticed it.$$Okay, all right. So, what was the racial makeup of--after integration for, I guess, DuBoise?$$You know, two or three blacks in a class of thirty, yeah, yeah, 'cause we, we were, it was a--there was a tight-knit black community, but it was very small. It was very small.$$Okay. And there wasn't a lot of rancor or problems, I guess, would you say?$$There was some resentment, you know. There were some kids who muttered some things and stuff like that, but, you know, mostly, it was uneventful. Let's say it like that. I mean, you know, the black kids would hang together, and the white kids still hung together. So it, it was more like two separate worlds that were colliding but really not paying much attention to each other. That's the way I recall it.

Arlie Petters

Mathematician, physicist and business professor Arlie Petters was born on February 8, 1964 in Dangriga, Belize. As a child, he lived with his grandparents and was captivated by the mystery of the skies. In 1979, Petters left Belize to live with his mother in the United States. After graduating from Canarsie High School in Brooklyn, New York, Petters enrolled at Hunter College. Family problems left Petters homeless, but he received a Minority Access to Research Careers Fellowship that allowed him to stay in school. In 1986, Petters graduated from Hunter College with his B.A/M.A. interdisciplinary degree in mathematics and physics. He continued his studies with a dual concentration in mathematics and physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), earning his Ph.D. degree in 1991. His doctoral thesis was entitled “Singularities in Gravitational Microlensing." During the summers of 1986 to 1991, Petters worked as a Corporate Research Fellowship Program (CRFP) Fellow at Bell Laboratories.

Following graduation, Petters became an instructor of pure mathematics at MIT. In 1993, Petters joined the faculty of Princeton University as an assistant professor of mathematics. He served as the co-director of graduate studies in mathematics from 1996 to 1998. Petters left Princeton in 1998 to join the faculty of Duke University as the William and Sue Gross Associate Professor. Petters was the lead author of the book, Singularity Theory and Gravitational Lensing in 2001, which outlined the first single mathematical theory to explain gravitational lensing. He became a full professor in 2003 and was the first African American at Duke University to receive tenure in the mathematics department. In 2005, Petters founded the Petters Research Institute to train Belizean students in the STEM disciplines. In 2008, he received a triple appointment to the departments of mathematics, physics and business administration, and in 2009, he was awarded the Benjamin Powell endowed chair. In 2010, Petters was appointed to serve as chairman on the Council of Science Advisors to the Prime Minister of Belize.
He also served as visiting professor at the Max-Planck-Institut für Astrophysik, Oxford University, Harvard University, Princeton University and was a Martin Luther King Jr. visiting professor of physics at MIT.

Petters has received numerous awards including the Sloan Research Fellowship and the National Science Foundation Early Career Grant Award. He was the first recipient of the Blackwell-Tapia Prize in Mathematical Science. He also received much recognition for his philanthropic efforts in Belize including the Award for Service to the Educational Development of Belize from the Friends in Support of the Diocese in Belize. Petters was also named by the Queen of England to Membership in the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Petters served on the Board of Governors for the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications and on the Board of Trustees for the Institute of Pure and Applied Mathematics. He is a member of the American Mathematical Society, American Astronomical Society and the Royal Astronomical Society. Petters lives with his wife Elizabeth Petters in Durham, North Carolina.

Arlie Petters was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on February 21, 2012.

Accession Number

A2012.050

Sex

Male

Interview Date

2/21/2012

Last Name

Petters

Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

O

Schools

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Hunter College

Canarsie High School

Ecumenical High School

Epworth Methodist School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Arlie

Birth City, State, Country

Dangriga

HM ID

PET08

Favorite Season

Easter

Sponsor

National Science Foundation

Favorite Vacation Destination

Belize

Favorite Quote

Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

North Carolina

Birth Date

2/8/1964

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Durham

Country

Belize

Favorite Food

Belizian Food

Short Description

Business professor, mathematician, and physicist Arlie Petters (1964 - ) is a foremost scholar on gravitational lensing and has served as chairman on the Council of Science Advisors to the Prime Minister of Belize since 2010.

Employment

Council of Science Advisors to the Prime Minister of Belize

Duke University

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Petters Research Institute

Princeton University

Bell Laboratories

Harvard University

Oxford University

Max-Plank -Institut fur Astrophysik

Main Sponsor
Main Sponsor URL
Favorite Color

Aquamarine

Timing Pairs
0,0:8248,102:9205,122:9640,129:11815,161:14077,189:16252,216:20630,221:20902,226:21310,233:22580,241:22796,246:23120,253:23660,265:24470,282:27548,312:28276,322:30005,339:34250,366:35212,385:39344,429:40010,440:40380,446:44154,493:44598,501:45264,513:45930,531:46448,539:55360,624:55700,630:56108,637:59690,676:60284,686:63830,718:64390,727:64670,732:66000,756:73924,875:74304,881:76508,924:77800,947:79016,962:87472,1019:89932,1056:90342,1062:91080,1070:91572,1079:91900,1084:96896,1113:99794,1173:100553,1187:100829,1192:102278,1210:104762,1249:105038,1254:106694,1282:115682,1341:116204,1348:116639,1355:117161,1362:120718,1394:121250,1403:125126,1470:126874,1501:131974,1560:132309,1566:133113,1584:133381,1589:133716,1595:139010,1677:139285,1684:140055,1704:144570,1743:145811,1764:146103,1769:147198,1784:147709,1792:148512,1807:152381,1868:153038,1879:153622,1889:156177,1929:160050,1934:161342,1955:162820,1965:163440,1979:163688,1984:165362,2017:165672,2023:166602,2037:177880,2205:179076,2232:179628,2239:184008,2268:186000,2300:194453,2388:195246,2405:206454,2490:207138,2507:207898,2519:208810,2534:209266,2541:213368,2572:213763,2579:215264,2608:215580,2613:216291,2620:223720,2670:225448,2708:225768,2714:226152,2721:227176,2738:227624,2747:231220,2776:232155,2799:232495,2804:234365,2821:238520,2849:239240,2858:239690,2864:245370,2899$0,0:4942,56:14614,209:29616,343:35940,408:36770,421:37600,434:37932,439:38264,444:39924,464:42348,476:42684,481:43272,490:44868,517:45624,527:46464,539:47052,547:48144,566:51504,610:56348,634:56866,642:57384,650:61592,670:65204,726:66064,737:66666,746:67182,753:71052,806:71912,818:76452,833:76988,843:77256,848:77993,861:78328,867:78998,879:79601,889:80338,902:80740,910:81611,924:87611,990:87887,995:88163,1000:89267,1019:91613,1066:91889,1071:94925,1131:95201,1136:97478,1168:103472,1215:104011,1224:104627,1233:106244,1265:109401,1317:110248,1329:111095,1343:111634,1352:112327,1362:112866,1370:118234,1408:130130,1592:130930,1605:135220,1629:136564,1646:137404,1658:139252,1733:142995,1760:150924,1845:153024,1875:153444,1881:154536,1898:155964,1918:157728,1955:161256,1997:165770,2006:166546,2016:167516,2028:170664,2062:171273,2070:171708,2079:172230,2086:172839,2100:175394,2113:176447,2123:179555,2132:180505,2144:185640,2183:186240,2190:186940,2198:187340,2203:187840,2209:188340,2215:188840,2221:196389,2280:196827,2288:197484,2298:202210,2363:205430,2400:209106,2445:209354,2450:209974,2461:210346,2468:214240,2511:214520,2516:214940,2523:216200,2551:216690,2560:217600,2579:218020,2587:220470,2638:223620,2713:230266,2784:233906,2833:240356,2884:241778,2910:242568,2923:245017,2956:246044,2971:248730,3015:253148,3036:253756,3048:254212,3055:260102,3123:265604,3170:270507,3220:270823,3225:271297,3233:272087,3246:275588,3262:276080,3270:276490,3276:276982,3284:277392,3290:278048,3299:278786,3313:281738,3349:282066,3354:282476,3360:283624,3377:284198,3386:284854,3400:286658,3425:291188,3448:291416,3454:294320,3476
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Arlie Petters' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Arlie Petters lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Arlie Petters describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Arlie Petters talks about his mother's education

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Arlie Petters describes his biological father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Arlie Petters talks about his stepfather, Cecil Petters

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Arlie Petters describes his grandmother, Bernice Waight

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Arlie Petters describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Arlie Petters talks about how his parents met

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Arlie Petters talks about his mother's immigration to the United States

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Arlie Petters recalls his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Arlie Petters talks about his childhood neighborhood

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Arlie Petters describes the sights, smells, and sounds of growing up

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Arlie Petters talks about the interactions between Garifunas and Creoles in Dangriga

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Arlie Petters talks about the culture of Dangriga, Belize

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Arlie Petters talks about radio and television during his childhood

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Arlie Petters describes his curious and pensive nature as a child

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Arlie Petters talks about Chinese culture in Belize

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Arlie Petters talks about his early education and the mentors that fostered his curiosity

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Arlie Petters reflects on the psychological effects of racism on African Americans

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Arlie Petters shares his first impressions of the United States

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Arlie Petters talks about his experience at Canarsie High School in Brooklyn, New York

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Arlie Petters talks about his decision to become a scientist

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Arlie Petters talks about his experience at Hunter College

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Arlie Petters talks about Einsten's theory of relativity

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Arlie Petters describes his difficult relationship with his stepfather and his Minority Access to Research Careers Scholarship

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Arlie Petters talks about the healing of his family relationships

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Arlie Petters talks about his doctoral work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Arlie Petters discusses his research on the mathematical theory of gravitational lensing

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Arlie Petters talks about the applications of math for physics, astronomy, and business

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Arlie Petters discusses his mathematical theory of shadow patterns in the universe

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Arlie Petters talks about his work at Princeton University, Oxford University, and the Max Planck Institute

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Arlie Petters talks about his move to Duke University

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Arlie Petters talks about his book, Singularity Theory and Gravitational Lensing

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Arlie Petters reflects on the finite nature of human knowledge

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Arlie Petters contrasts science education in the United States and in Belize

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Arlie Petters discusses his research on how black holes affect light

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Arlie Petters talks about his desire to see more minorities pursue advanced degrees in mathematics

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Arlie Petters talks about being awarded the Blackwell Tapia Prize

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Arlie Petters talks about achieving the status of a full professor

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Arlie Petters talks about the Petters Research Institute

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Arlie Petters reflects on being inducted into the National Academy of Arts and Sciences Portrait Gallery

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Arlie Petters talks about his work with the Institute of Pure and Applied Mathematics

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Arlie Petters talks about being featured on 'Nova'

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Arlie Petters talks about honors he has received

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Arlie Petters talks about his research on the optics of black holes

Tape: 6 Story: 11 - Arlie Petters describes his work in finance

Tape: 6 Story: 12 - Arlie Petters talks about Arlie Petters Street in Belize

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Arlie Petters discusses his work to strengthen the economy of Brazil using science

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Arlie Petters talks about his family

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Arlie Petters talks about his awards

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Arlie Petters talks about his students

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Arlie Petters discusses the future of gravitational lensing and astronomy

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Arlie Petters shares his concerns about the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Arlie Petters talks about his legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Arlie Petters reflects on his life

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Arlie Petters talks about his hobbies and interests

Tape: 7 Story: 10 - Arlie Petters talks about his faith

Tape: 7 Story: 11 - Arlie Petters talks about how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 7 Story: 12 - Arlie Petters describes his photos

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DATitle
Arlie Petters talks about his decision to become a scientist
Arlie Petters talks about the Petters Research Institute
Transcript
Okay, all right so, okay now so what pushed you over the edge into science instead of art, or did you still kind of think well I could do both, be both?$$Well I would say the, the roots of that go back to Belize and this high school teacher that really brought the different fields together. I'd began noticing that it's also an artistic dimension to mathematics. That the way these equations balance, there's a beauty and the feelings I began having from looking deeper into mathematics as well as some of the ideas, you know I started learning about Newton's theory of gravity, then I heard the name Einstein and all of these things that nature has a sort of mathematical structure that was beautiful. And so the feelings that gave me were similar to feelings I was getting when I did art and even feelings I got when I listened to music. I used to love ABBA, right in those days as a kid. And of course you know you also have the, the--we call it macovi music that would come from Al Green, you know and all of these singers, artists, you know and these guys of that, of that time. But for me it was the feeling I got if I listened to an Otis Redding song, or the feeling I got from doing art, or the feeling now, the new part that you get from looking at all mathematical equations balance. There was not an arbitrariness. So my mother made a remark that I think was defining. She said you know you could be an artist if you want, it's your choice, but you probably will have a hard time making a living doing that. And I had witnessed enough of these artists trying to sell their work during the summers in New York. I said but if you go into science you could make a good living and you could still do art on the side. Given that I had this--the same feelings I was getting from art I was getting in mathematics and my physics classes, I didn't feel like I was giving up something totally. So it was a natural flow that the passion can continue, right, in the hard sciences and mathematics. And I think that was what really nailed it for me.$$And that's something I haven't experienced in life yet. I, I used to do art but, but failed before math. I've heard mathematicians describe equations as elegant.$$Yes that's right. There's an aesthetic balance to it. And you'll find that the way it flows, it's like you're looking at a masterpiece. And that I think was what was able to fuel my passion for the subject.$$Okay, okay. Our friend Matthew Hickey always says that math is the language of physics.$$Yes, that's right, exactly. And the thing that I would say, you know as I got more mature intellectually, the profound mysteries, why is it that nature at its core, at least how human beings describe nature, that you need mathematics. That is a great mystery, right. That these underlying equations governing how the physical world works and they're beautiful. Yeah.$And in 2005, that's when you actually found the Petters Research Institute in Belize.$$In Belize, that's right.$$And were you, did you propose the idea to the Belizean's government or did they--did someone in Belize propose the idea to you, or--$$Well I'll tell you how the, the origin of this effort. I was involved in a worldwide effort in Africa to set up a new university in Africa. The motivation was what can one really do to help turn around [unclear] in Africa. We know that all kinds of efforts have been going on, billions of dollars spent. And so the idea was to instead try and use science and technology as a tool to address poverty alleviation. So we were involved in this and I'm looking at the, you know, phenomenal ideas of things that would to me empower communities to really raise standard of living and for people to take ownership of their country and help with building the kind of technological infrastructure you need for this new century. And said I need to take this concept to Belize, right I was involved in all the blueprints, so this intellectual blueprint of setting this thing up. And I saw that aspects of it Belize can surely benefit from. And so that was really the seed that was involved with the Institute, and then of course the government was very happy because we are politically neutral and I have had excellent support from them ever since.$$Okay there's a picture here, it's a beautiful building.$$Yeah, yah.$$And what, what, what are the--what kind of programs do you all run and how many children are involved?$$So the way we do it is we think of the Institute as a catalyst that would drive science and technology, STEM [Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics] fields, really, innovation, but we want to tie it to national development in very practical ways because science in the U.S. is not particularly--you can't just assume it's relevant in Belize, right. You don't want to do nuclear physics in Belize you know. So we try to touch on issues in science and technology that--I'll give you an example that are really needed in the country. We partnered with the Ministry of Defense in Belize and had a--offered a summer program that would teach young people how to assemble computers, how to repair them. Now this is something that if your computer ever breaks down in Belize, good luck with finding help for it. But we thought that this is simple enough that--we even had some elementary school kids involved. But surely teach it at the high school level. And so we partnered with the military. We were able to have everyone over at the base. I got a colleague from Duke [Duke University] who went down and taught the course and we got donations and they assembled all the computers. And at the end of the program, plugged it in and it booted up, Windows came up, and we donated them to needy schools. So what we try to--that's an example of a skill set. To me the repair and maintenance of computers is like you needing a plumber and electrician. That's basic for a modern economy. And Belize, you know it's an area where they had it to me primarily in a cottage industry form. And the Institute acts as a catalyst to try and systemize this sort of thing in the country. So we look at these kind of basic building blocks for an economy, go in there, run a program that would stimulate it and then you have a bigger organization come in and sustain it, right. So that, that's the way we act.