Physics program at Dillard University grows with help of SPIE Fellow

29 June 2017
Abdalla Darwish SPIE Fellow Plaque
Abdalla Darwish's SPIE Fellow Plaque

SPIE Fellow Abdalla Darwish, Presidential Professor of Physics at Dillard University (USA), has helped the university become a "powerhouse" among historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in graduating more physics majors — especially female physics majors — than far bigger HBCUs with more resources.

One of the smallest HBCUs in the US, with an enrollment of just 1,200 students, Dillard was in the news recently for ranking second in the country in black physics undergrads. Founded in 1869, the private, liberal arts college established physics as a major in 1940 and has conferred 33 physics degrees since 2007, including nine to black women.

The top school producing the most African-American undergraduates in physics, according to the American Institute of Physics, is Morehouse College, an all-male HBCU with nearly twice as many students as Dillard.

photoDarwish arrived at Dillard in 1998 and has built a multi-million dollar laser lab for research on thin film fabrication using the pulse laser deposition technique and ion implantation.

He calls his efforts to steer black women into the physics major "a movement." "I believe in women, especially minority women," Darwish said. "They are not less than anybody else. Just give them the chance and they will be the best."

Darwish has also served Dillard University in numerous administrative roles, including chair of the physics department, chair of the School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and associate provost and associate vice president for Academic Affairs.

Dillard President Walter Kimbrough is one of the biggest champions of the school's physics program. "I'd never met a black female getting an undergraduate degree in physics in my life until I got to Dillard," Kimbrough told the Associated Press. "It broadens the narrative of what black women do."

Darwish is one of 71 SPIE members named to the rank of SPIE Fellow this year. Promoted for his achievements in thin film fabrication for waveguides, sensor devices, and photonic applications, Darwish is to be honored at the Fellows luncheon at SPIE Optics + Photonics in August.

He is also a coauthor of an invited paper to be presented 6 August at Optics + Photonics on a new class of inorganic nanocomposite films.

More in Associated Press feature story on Dillard University's physics program

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