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Thursday, July 18, 2024

Brilliant woman breaks record at Florida State University, emerges first black woman to earn PhD in Nuclear Physics

A young woman named Kalissa Villafana has made history as the first black woman to earn a Doctorate in Nuclear Physics from Florida State University in the United States.

Kalissa is a native of Trinidad who made history as the first black person to earn a Ph.D. degree from Florida State University in the United States. The journey towards her history-making achievement began with her undergraduate studies at the Florida University of Agriculture and Mechanical.

She obtained her bachelor’s degree in Physics from the university which was inspired by her experiences at an all-girls Catholic High School, where she was exposed to numerous physics experiments

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Kalissa said the teachers at her high school used the physics experiments to help students understand the principles of matter and energy and how the universe works.“From then on, I said I want to be a physicist and that never changed,” Villafana said.



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Kalissa said she realized she wanted to become a physicist when she was just 12 years old. Being an international student, She said she wanted to enter into a program where she would have support and community which she found at Florida State University with the world-renowned physicist, Mark Riley.

She credited the renowned physicist for helping her expand her access and opportunities in her career. She added that Riley introduced her to a network of mentors, and resources with helped her to attend academic conferences and conduct research across the country as a student.

While a student at Florida State University, Kalissa served as a mentor to other minority students at the University, encouraging them to pursue their graduate studies early enough.


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“In Trinidad, many people don’t know how to get to the United States and get a Ph.D. that’s paid for by the school. They don’t know how to go from being an international student from the islands to a doctor in the U.S. I want to show them how to get to the next point,” Kalissa said.

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Kalissa stated that though the world of physics is male and white-dominated, she hopes her achievement as the 96th black woman to be a doctor of physics will encourage and motivate black women to follow in her footsteps.

“I always encourage young women to pursue what they are passionate about and what makes them excited, even if they are a minority in the field, I tell them, “don’t be intimidated and bring new and invaluable perspectives,” she said.

She focused her doctoral research on the study of nuclear structure using gamma-ray spectroscopy. Kalissa mentioned that her goal is to use her knowledge in nuclear physics, in topics such as radiation physics and accelerators, and her expertise as a researcher to transition to the field of medical physics.

Kalissa added that she would like to enter the field of working in the research and development phase of medical devices or the field of healthcare analytics.

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