The Nation’s Largest African American Video Oral History Collection Mobile search icon Mobile close search icon
Advanced Biography Search
Mobile navigation icon Close mobile navigation icon

Daniel Akins

Physical chemist and chemistry professor Daniel Akins was born on July 8, 1941, in Miami, Florida, and graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in 1960. Akins earned his B.S. degree in chemistry from Howard University in 1963 where he was inducted into Sigma Xi honor society. He received his Ph.D. degree in physical chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1968 under the mentorship of Professor C. Bradley Moore.

After finishing his graduate education, Akins worked at Florida State University as both a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Molecular Biophysics and visiting assistant chemistry professor. In 1970, he became an assistant professor in the chemistry department at the University of South Florida and was promoted to associate professor in 1975. Between 1977 and 1979, Akins served as a visiting program director of the physical chemistry subsection of the dynamics program at the National Science Foundation (NSF). After a brief period as a senior scientist with the Polaroid Corporation, he began his career at The City College of New York as a professor of chemistry in 1981. In 1988, Akins founded and served as director of what would become in 2000 the CUNY Center for Analysis of Structures and Interfaces (CASI), which has the goal of training minority scientists in high-level scientific research. Eleven years after establishment of CASI, he was awarded an NSF Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) grant. In 2008, Akins became the principal investigator for a $5 million NSF grant to establish a center for nanostructure applications known as CENSES (Center for Exploitation of Nanostructures in Sensors and Energy Systems). Throughout his career, he has published more than 130 research papers in leading scientific journals. His principal research focuses on the development of new nanomaterials for use in molecular photonic devices (MPDs), chemical sensors and fuel cells.

Akins is a member of several professional organizations, including the American Chemical Society, the Society for Applied Spectroscopy, and NOBCChE (National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers). Throughout his career, Akins has shown a continued commitment to increasing diversity in the sciences and has mentored many doctoral students. For his work, Daniel has been recognized many times, including being named a Sigma Xi Distinguished Lecturer and receiving the CCNY Faculty Service Award. In 2000, Akins received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM) from President Bill Clinton. Daniel Akins lives in Teaneck, New Jersey with his wife Sondra Akins. They have two children, Dana, a mechanical engineer, and Meredith, an actress and dancer.

Daniel Akins was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on May 14, 2012.

Accession Number

A2012.109

Sex

Male

Interview Date

5/15/2012

Last Name

Akins

Marital Status

Married

Schools

Douglass Primary School

Phillis Wheatley Elementary School

Booker T. Washington High School

University of California, Berkeley

Florida State University

Howard University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Daniel

Birth City, State, Country

Miami

HM ID

AKI03

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Florida

Favorite Vacation Destination

Miami, Florida

Favorite Quote

Never give up.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

7/8/1941

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

All Food

Short Description

Chemist and chemistry professor Daniel Akins (1941 - ) , an expert on nanomaterial, is the director of the CUNY Center for Analysis of Structures and Interfaces.

Employment

City College of CUNY

Polaroid Corporation

National Science Foundation (NSF)

University of South Florida

Florida State University

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
0,0:1452,35:7195,95:11700,882:15865,968:19350,1034:19775,1040:22495,1095:29338,1126:30374,1141:32520,1230:34000,1263:37404,1343:45014,1413:45758,1424:55841,1531:59564,1713:61827,1749:72990,1880:76188,1952:76516,1957:78238,2022:81764,2106:88919,2191:92584,2248:95840,2303:98128,2338:98480,2343:107741,2467:108434,2475:109358,2487:112669,2556:113131,2563:113824,2573:116672,2607:119432,2631:137560,2824:138757,2876:139270,2886:148800,2995:150120,3015:162052,3229:164161,3293:164389,3312:166470,3326$0,0:9494,131:10440,146:13106,193:16675,225:19570,230:20615,245:29819,340:30284,351:36904,412:37348,420:40826,498:41418,507:41788,525:44425,530:47760,579:51580,596:52705,610:64780,889:65380,898:71529,949:72026,958:72452,980:76925,1062:79698,1078:80210,1083:83986,1159:84242,1164:85202,1196:88382,1234:89566,1283:93044,1331:100783,1442:101784,1480:103940,1515:116574,1683:119566,1808:138096,1930:139360,1959:141493,2040:141967,2047:147610,2117:150165,2168:150457,2173:155172,2261:159216,2350:169240,2422:174627,2506:176571,2546:179001,2620:179325,2625:184900,2677:193790,2809:200835,2895:201660,2908:204135,2960:204885,2975:206385,3003:206760,3009:217760,3177:219720,3227:221050,3257:222870,3300:223640,3340:229830,3380:232600,3397
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Daniel Akins slates the interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Daniel Akins shares his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Daniel Akins talks about his mother's background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Daniel Akins talks about his grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Daniel Akins talks about his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Daniel Akins talks about his father's background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Daniel Akins talks about the church founded by his grandfather

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Daniel Akins talks about his grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Daniel Akins talks about how his parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Daniel Akins talks about his father's military experience

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Daniel Akins talks about his grandmother

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Daniel Akins describes the similarities between him and his parents

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Daniel Akins describes his neighborhood growing up

Tape: 1 Story: 14 - Daniel Akins talks about his brother and the church he grew up in

Tape: 1 Story: 15 - Daniel Akins talks about the sights, sounds, and smells of growing up

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Daniel Akins talks about growing up in Miami, Florida

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Daniel Akins talks about his hobbies

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Daniel Akins talks about what he learned about being an artist

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Daniel Akins talks about grade school

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Daniel Akins discusses the connection between art and mathematics

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Daniel Akins describes his personality

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Daniel Akins talks about race relations in Miami, Florida

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Daniel Akins talks about high school

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Daniel Akins talks about his extracurricular activities in high school

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Daniel Akins talks about his heroes

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Daniel Akins describes his first interest in science

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Daniel Akins talks about why he chose to attend Howard University

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Daniel Akins talks about his high school science projects

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Daniel Akins talks about his transition to Howard University

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Daniel Akins talks about his studies at Howard University

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Daniel Akins talks about changing his major

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Daniel Akins talks about how he met his wife

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Daniel Akins talks about early computers

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Daniel Akins talks about black astronauts

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Daniel Akins talks about his mentors

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Daniel Akins describes his professors at the University of California

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Daniel Akins talks about graduate school

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Daniel Akins talks about his post-doctoral studies

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Daniel Akins describes the Free Speech Movement and race relations

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Daniel Akins describes his experience at the University of South Florida

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Daniel Akins talks about his experience working for the Polaroid Corporation

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Daniel Akins talks about working at CUNY

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Daniel Akins talks about his research at CUNY

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Daniel Akins talks about the challenges minorities face in academia

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Daniel Akins talks about one of his publications

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Daniel Akins talks about the number of minorities that pursuing doctorate degrees

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Daniel Akins talks about the program IGERT and its mentorship philosophy

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Daniel Akins talks about the practical uses of infinitesimal sensors

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Daniel Akins describes an average work day

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Daniel Akins talks about his work in research and science

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Daniel Akins talks about what he would do differently

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Daniel Akins talks about his goals for CUNY

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Daniel Akins talks about his legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Daniel Akins talks about his concerns for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Daniel Akins talks about his love for tennis

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Daniel Akins talks about his family

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Daniel Akins talks about how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Daniel Akins describes his family photos

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$4

DAStory

4$6

DATitle
Daniel Akins describes the Free Speech Movement and race relations
Daniel Akins talks about his experience working for the Polaroid Corporation
Transcript
You know. I mean, I don't know if people--. Well, tell me this now; we didn't discuss any of this, but in Berkeley when you were there, it was like the height of the political (unclear)--$$Yes.$$--free speech movement [The Free Speech Movement (FSM) was a student protest which took place during the 1964-1965 academic year on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley under the informal leadership of students Mario Savio, Brian Turner, Bettina Aptheker, Steve Weissman, Art Goldberg, Jackie Goldberg, and others. In protests unprecedented in this scope at the time, students insisted that the university administration lift the ban of on-campus political activities and acknowledge the students' right to free speech and academic freedom.]--$$Oh, yeah. Yeah.$$--Black Panthers [the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, active from 1966-1982] were on the rise. All that was going on when you were there. Did you have a chance to pay any attention to that, because I know you--$$Oh, I [belonged to?] I was there when Mario Savio and Bettina Aptheker and Jerry Rubin, and all of those, you know, took over the administration building and Sproul Hall Plaza [University of California, Berkeley]. I was there during that, then they jumped up on the police car and, you know, and it was--I was there when police would come to the campus. The California's high patrol, you know, their badges covered with black tape and they would take the students and sometimes throw them down a two-story flight, and the only thing that would save them would be other students who would grab them before they would hit the concrete, you know. All of these were white students, I mean. And so, I remember one day that some pregnant students decided they would block the police who had arrested all of these students and then would take them in a bus, and these were pregnant with babies. And the cops got off the bus, off of their buses and beat them with clubs. And I said, "Wait a minute, now. If they're going to do that to them, what are they going to do to me." So I sort of--I, basically, but I wasn't at the center of, you know, of their focus, you know. But it was--that was a daily thing. It was hard to avoid it. I mean, it was a very exciting time to be there. So, when I (unclear), just being on campus, you couldn't miss that.$$Now, did you encounter the Black Panthers at all?$$Oh, yeah. Yeah, I mean, they were people I knew, you now, around campus; then on the avenue, I mean, the coffee houses, I mean, you know. And, there was always something like a stomp speaker--not a stomp speaker, but a box, you know, soapbox speaker. The funny part--it wasn't funny, but the John Birch Society was big too, you know. So every day there was a debate in the Sproul Hall Plaza. And I can remember--there were even people who were trying to recruit you for different things, you know, for whatever. I don't know if it's Secret Services [United States] or what, but they were always around; even Soviets [referring to the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics, 1922-1991]. (laughs).$$So, okay.$$But it was a lot of activity going on at Berkeley. But I avoided any real, you know, getting involved with student groups and things of that sort. But I was in graduate school. That wouldn't have worked anyway.$Okay.$$Then I went to Polaroid [Corporation] for a couple years. That was my private industry experience. And I did that for two years. Then I ended up here.$$Now, what is--what was it like working at Polaroid?$$I was the only black chemist, physical chemist in the whole facility. And it was--I had no one working for me, but I had the title of a senior scientist, and which is unprecedented. I had all the stuff I wanted; they bought me lasers, and I set up the laboratory, but, normally the position would have--you'd have technicians, but I didn't. I did everything for myself. And the reason behind that, I found out later, but there was, as you can imagine, there was some politics going on. I had written--they asked me to write up something. They had a consultant who said there was good work, so they offered me the job. They maybe want to make me the director. But the physical chemistry division, which would have been new, but once the people there got wind that they were bringing someone else new in to run this, there was some friction, resistance. So they decided to ask me to come anyway, you know, come in. But I didn't have the same title, but they gave me for the same money, which was--. So I did it that way. But once I got there, I realized that that was untenable, you know, because you don't report to anyone; you just sort of at the good graces of whomever your sponsor is, who you don't even know who that is. That's one thing I learned, that you got always find out who's backing you. You know, I didn't even know that was of an issue. But once I got there and I find out what was going on, I decided I'd get out as soon as I could. And that took a couple of years. I was fortunate because as soon as I left, Polaroid fell, collapsed. But it was--it was clear that was going to happen because electronic photography was going to clearly take over.$$Yeah. It's--. Oh, so, you were thinking of forming your own business at that time you were saying, before--?$$Yeah, because I was doing some things that I thought were very exciting, and they were a spin-off, maybe of what Polaroid was doing. I really didn't know too much about their field and their science. I was learning, but I thought I had something new that I could do. But as I got experienced in the company doing the research, I realized that you really couldn't compete. I mean, I wouldn't have been able to compete against them, because this is a multi-billion dollar company and, you know, with all the--a lot of people--a lot of buildings and everything going for them. So, that wouldn't have worked. That would have been the wrong area because it's clearly electronic photography was on its way in.$$Now this is 1979, though?$$Yeah.$$And, electronic photography hadn't really--$$It hadn't quite kicked in, but it was on the horizon. You know, I mean, in retrospect, I mean, everyone was saying in the company what was going to happen, but they wanted to diversify. So they started going into equestrian photography at racetracks and using a Polaroid film to get quick pictures of horse ligaments--you know, legs and things. But, you know, it's a sort of small business-kind of thing. They also got into batteries. Those cameras had batteries, so they wanted to spin off into that. But I think the general view was that photography wasn't going to be the future, you know.