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Black History Month STEM Celebration 2021 – Dr Nira Chamberlain

24th February 2021
 | Suze Kundu

For Black History Month USA, Digital Science’s Suze Kundu and ReadCube’s Olivia Bates wanted to celebrate the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) heroes from the USA and the UK that are making history. They asked some of our STEM heroes what changes they would like to see in research culture in 2021, with a view to revisiting them in October, Black History Month UK, to celebrate the progress that has been made, and highlight the work that still needs to be done for greater equality, diversity and inclusion of Black people and other underrepresented groups in STEM.

In this final part of the series, we meet mathematician Dr Nira Chamberlain. Dr Chamberlain is the current and first Black President of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (the IMA, one of the United Kingdom’s learned societies for mathematics).

Career Highlights and Successes

As well as his role at the IMA, Dr Chamberlain is a Visiting Fellow of Loughborough University’s Mathematical Sciences Department. In 2019, the Inclusive Tech Alliance named Nira as one of their Top 100 Most Influential Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Leaders in UK Technology.

Dr Chamberlain has also been named in the PowerList Top 100 Most Influential Black Person in the UK list for four years running (2018-2021). Other awards include an Honorary Doctorate in Science from the University of Greenwich, given for his unique and inspirational contribution to the field of mathematics. In 2018, Nira won the title of World’s Most Interesting Mathematician at the Big Internet Math Off, an invited international mathematical communication tournament with awards voted for by the general public.

Dr Chamberlain is also one of the Science Council’s ‘Top 100 UK Scientists’ and in 2015 joined the elite list of distinguished mathematicians to have featured in the biographical reference book Who’s Who. As well as this, Dr Chamberlain is one of the few British Mathematicians to feature in the Encyclopedia of Mathematics & Society. The encyclopedia highlights two of Nira’s mathematical models and their impact on the field of naval engineering.

Dr Chamberlain, who currently works for SNC-Lavalin Atkins as a  Principal Data Scientist Consultant, has over 25 years of experience at writing mathematical models/simulation algorithms that solve complex industrial problems. Dr Chamberlain developed mathematical solutions within industries such as the defence, aerospace, automotive, retail and energy sectors. This has included periods in France, the Netherlands, Germany and Israel.

During his career, Dr Chamberlain has been invited to speak at several prestigious events such as New Scientist Live, The Royal Society’s Destination STEMM, Oxford University’s Reddick Lecture, and at King College London’s Maxwell Lecture to name a few. Popular talks include “Saving Aston Villa”, “The Black Heroes of Mathematics” and “The Mathematics that can stop an AI apocalypse!”

A geomap showing the range of countries across the world that SNC-Lavalin and their researchers are working in (Source: Dimensions)

What changes would you like to see in research culture in 2021?

We need more Black Professors
In my research for The Black Heroes of Mathematicians, I have come across past and current Black Mathematicians who were not or are not given equal opportunity and denied a chance to shine! Is this a result of conscious or unconscious behaviours within the system? Either way, we need more Black Professors. We need to recognise them for what they have done, and we need to celebrate them so they can be the role models and beacons of aspiration to the rest of the community.

Don’t just collect data; do something with it!
Collecting data and reporting underrepresentation is a comfort zone. We having been doing this for decades. Now we need to do something about it to make a difference! For those in Leadership, you kill diversity when you utter these words “that person reminds me of myself when I was younger!”

Trust and Faith
Someone once told me, even if a Black Mathematician is as clever as Einstein, they would not trust them to deliver the solution. As scientists, we live by evidence, but if we can’t exercise trust and faith in the first place, young Black mathematicians will never be given an opportunity to shine.