Chanda Prescod-Weinstein: “I’m one part of the universe, trying to figure out another part of the universe.”

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein: “I’m one part of the universe, trying to figure out another part of the universe.”


Lacy M. Johnson

On quarks, leptons, and the patriarchy.

​“Articulating scientific questions is social,” Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein writes in The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey Into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred, a fascinating and hard-to-classify book that blends clear and cogent writing about the science of theoretical physics with piercing critiques of the cultures in which that science occurs. In her work as a theoretical physicist, Prescod-Weinstein articulates scientific questions about dark matter and space-time, as well as social ones about who gets to do physics and the power relations involved in how it’s done. In The Disordered Cosmos, Prescod-Weinstein brings these scientific and social questions together. Informed by Black feminism, she moves from discussions of quarks and leptons to explanations of the roots and history of patriarchy, from hidden figures to the insights of observational astronomy.

One of the few Black women in her field, Prescod-Weinstein has had a remarkable career. Originally from East Los Angeles, she is an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at the University of New Hampshire, where she is also core faculty in women’s and gender studies. She has held research positions at the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics & Space Research and the Center for Theoretical Physics at MIT, as well as a postdoctoral fellowship at the Observational Cosmology Lab at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. For a time, she was editor-in-chief at the online experimental literary magazine The Offing.

She brings this varied and multifaceted background to bear on The Disordered Cosmos, which is part science book, part personal narrative, part cultural critique. But this work is more than the sum of its parts. The Disordered Cosmos calls on us to consider the harmful power relations far too many of us are far too willing to accept, and — through its probing inquiries into who gets to ask scientific questions and do scientific work — offers a compelling vision of a more expansive and inclusive universe. Early in the book she offers two big dreams for Black children: “to know and experience Blackness as beauty and power” and “to know and experience curiosity about the night sky, to know it belonged to their ancestors.” She writes, “That, too, is freedom.”

Chanda and I talked over Zoom in early June about dark matter, the season of Star Trek that’s “queer as fuck,” and why it’s important to be aware of whom you’re writing “not just for but to.”…

Read the entire interview here.

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