News Release

Colorado School of Mines professor wins second annual Joseph A. Johnson Award

Serena Eley commended for superconductor, skyrmion research, passion for mentoring.

Grant and Award Announcement

American Institute of Physics

Serena Eley, recipient of the 2021 Joseph A. Johnson III Award for Excellence

image: Serena Eley, recipient of the 2021 Joseph A. Johnson III Award for Excellence view more 

Credit: Eley

WASHINGTON, November 5, 2021 -- The American Institute of Physics and the National Society of Black Physicists are pleased to announce that physicist Serena Eley is the recipient of the 2021 Joseph A. Johnson III Award for Excellence.

The award, now in its second year, is given by AIP and NSBP in recognition of an early career scientist who exemplifies the values of Joseph A. Johnson, a renowned experimental physicist, impactful mentor, and founder of NSBP.

"The Institute is thrilled to recognize, together with NSBP, Dr. Eley and her many contributions to the physical sciences community," said Michael Moloney, CEO of AIP. "Dr. Eley's work is doubly exciting -- both through her cutting-edge research into topological excitations in various materials systems and through her inspiring mentorship of students that excites the imaginations of future researchers."

Eley studies the dynamics of vortices in superconductors and skyrmions (nanoscale whirlpools of magnetic moments) in magnetic materials. Vortices cause energy loss, where skyrmions are potentially useful as carriers of information in next-generation devices. By examining superconductors and magnetic materials at a microscopic level, she aims to mitigate the effects of vortices and exploit the properties of skyrmions.

"NSBP is proud to partner with AIP in recognizing Professor Eley as a highly impactful researcher and mentor," said Stephon Alexander, president of NSBP. "Her contributions to the current state of the physical sciences, as well as to the future faces of the field, epitomize the legacy of Dr. Joseph Johnson."

While she loves research, Eley said she enjoys the immediate impact of teaching and mentoring.

"As a professor, I discovered that I really enjoy offering undergraduate research opportunities," she said. "This is ultimately because, for me, undergraduate research was vital in determining my career goals."

Her early research opportunities started as a high school student at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, in Alexandria, Virginia, and as an intern in the NASA SHARP Plus program. From there, Eley progressed to conducting research at multiple NASA centers (Ames, JPL, Goddard), the National University of Singapore, the Max Planck Institute in Munich, and the Superconductor Research Labs in Tokyo.

Eley first became interested in physics after reading about magnetic levitation trains in elementary school.

"From that point forward, I decided that I wanted to understand superconductivity, which I'm clearly still working on to this day," she said.

Eley said she holds a deep appreciation for the accomplishments of Johnson and is honored to receive this award.

"When students ask about hardship, I tell them that when choosing a field nowadays, if you're having fun and feel as if you can contribute -- go for it!" she said. "Because of pioneers such as Joseph Johnson, the rest is noise."

Eley plans to use the award money to fund undergraduate summer research.



Joseph A. Johnson III, of Florida A&M University, was a pioneering and renowned experimental physicist, mentor to many Black doctoral students and a founder of the National Society of Black Physicists. In honor of his iconic legacy, the American Institute of Physics and NSBP have partnered to recognize an NSBP physicist who exemplifies Johnson's ingenuity as a scientist and passion for mentorship and service. This honor comes with a $5,000 award along with an invitation to give physics department colloquia at partner universities.


Founded in 1977 at Morgan State University, the mission of the National Society of Black Physicists is to promote the professional well-being of African American physicists and physics students within the international scientific community and within society at large. The organization seeks to develop and support efforts to increase opportunities for African Americans in physics and to increase their numbers and visibility of their scientific work. It also seeks to develop activities and programs that highlight and enhance the benefits of the scientific contributions that African American physicists provide for the international community. The society seeks to raise the general knowledge and appreciation of physics in the African American community.

About American Institute of Physics

The American Institute of Physics (AIP) is a 501(c)(3) membership corporation of scientific societies. AIP pursues its mission -- to advance, promote, and serve the physical sciences for the benefit of humanity -- with a unifying voice of strength from diversity. In its role as a federation, AIP advances the success of its Member Societies by providing the means to pool, coordinate, and leverage their diverse expertise and contributions in pursuit of a shared goal of advancing the physical sciences in the research enterprise, in the economy, in education, and in society. In its role as an institute, AIP operates as a center of excellence using policy analysis, social science, and historical research to promote future progress in the physical sciences.


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