NCCU officially joins Triangle Universities Nuclear Laboratory as first HBCU

Mohammad Ahmed, an NCCU professor, said a combination of reaching critical mass of faculty and students and having steady funding made this the right time for NCCU to become an official part of TUNL.

“We can now officially make a claim to those facilities,” he said. “It opens doors for further funding for us because now we are recognized as part of a major consortium.”

Ahmed is the current leader of the NCCU nuclear physics group conducting research at TUNL and held a faculty bridge position between NCCU and TUNL for six years. He said NCCU contributes to the diversity of TUNL in a way that will be beneficial for everyone involved.

“This is the first occasion that a (historically black college or university) has become part of a Department of Energy Center of Excellence,” Ahmed said. “We have really changed the portfolio in terms of diversity at TUNL and in terms of addressing disparities in the STEM field.”

Diane Markoff, a physics professor at NCCU, said the official designation won’t change how people interact with students and faculty from NCCU at the lab, but it will make things easier administratively.

“TUNL has been very generous to us in treating us very equally, but we didn’t have completely equal access to everything,” Markoff said. “My students were welcome, but they didn’t have quite the same opportunities.”

Markoff said the makeup of NCCU, which includes minority students, older students and former military students, will allow more traditionally underserved populations in the sciences the opportunity to work in a lab like TUNL.

“We are an economically affordable school so we’re getting students who deserve all of the equal treatment but maybe couldn’t afford it,” she said. “If they don’t get scholarships to UNC or N.C. State, they are coming here.”

Now that NCCU is officially part of the consortium, Markoff is one of two female faculty members at TUNL.

“I think that what it really allows us to do is not only to officially say, ‘I’m from TUNL, I’m not just associated with TUNL,’” she said. “Instead of just saying, ‘I’m acting like this is my home,’ it is my home.”

Calvin Howell, former director of TUNL and a Duke physics professor, said the partnership allows UNC, N.C. State and Duke to strengthen a relationship with a primarily undergraduate institution.

“It will give their students opportunity to conduct research with our faculty and the faculty at NCCU,” he said. “Even at the undergraduate level, it’s important to expose our students to frontier research.”

Howell said the official distinction just formalizes a successful partnership that already exists.

“The founders of TUNL had tremendous insight to the potential that can be realized through collaboration,” Howell said. 

“Through collaborating outside of our institutional boundaries, but with people who are local, enables us to combine the resources at now all four universities to address problems that are larger than what any of us could do as an individual.”

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