James Edward Young
Young researched and taught theoretical particle physics, critical phenomena and nuclear physics in the MIT Center for Theoretical Physics. He earned tenure in the Department of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1969, and was the first black member of faculty to do so. He was interested in the intermediate structures in nuclear reactions. He contributed to several textbooks, including Nuclear, Particle and Many Body Physics and the Intermediate Structure in Nuclear Reactions. Young was the doctoral advisor for Shirley Ann Jackson, the first African-American woman to earn a PhD at MIT, as well as Sylvester James Gates.
In 1977 Young was a founding member of the National Society of Black Physicists. He founded the society with Ronald E. Mickens, with whom he had previously discussed senior black physicists who became role models for their students. They hosted a meeting at Fisk University to celebrate these “elders”, including Halson Eagleson, Donald Edwards and John Hunter. The National Society of Black Physicists emerged from these meetings, an independent society led by African-Americans who “created and developed activities and programs for themselves”.
James Edward Young MS ’51, PhD ’53 made history in 1970 as his department’s first black tenured faculty member, a position he held until 1992, before becoming an emeritus professor.
Young graduated from Howard University with a bachelor’s in physics in 1946. From 1946 to 1949 he taught physics at Hampton Institute in Virginia. He simultaneously worked on a masters degree in physics at Howard University, in absentia, before joining the staff of the Acoustics Laboratory at MIT as Research Assistant in 1949.
Young received his MS degree, without specification, from MIT. He stayed on to earn his PhD in Physics in 1953, with a dissertation entitled “Propagation of Sound In Attenuating Ducts Containing Absorptive Strips,” and completed a one-year Post-doctoral Fellow in Acoustics in 1954. He returned to the Institute in 1969 as a Visiting Professor, earning tenure the following year in the Department of Physics.
As a founding member of the National Society of Black Physicists, Young is well-known for mentoring two pioneering and exceptionally promising MIT doctoral students: Shirley Ann Jackson ’68, PhD ’73 and Sylvester James Gates, Jr. ’73, PhD ’77. Both would go on to distinguished careers, including appointments by two U.S. presidents.