Sekazi Mtingwa's passion for physics has allowed him to leave his mark in the classroom at multiple universities, in South Africa and in the laboratory through his research on accelerators and high energy physics.
As he promotes the power of science nationally and internationally, Mtingwa is helping researchers collaborate. And he is committed to guiding African-American students.
"For as long as I can remember I have felt a closer kinship with the field of physics," Mtingwa said. He also had strong interests in mathematics and music but became fascinated with the theory of relativity in high school.
Born Michael Von Sawyer, Mtingwa expressed strong interests in Pan-Africanism early in his career; saying he believes that black people across the world can work together. As a Princeton University undergraduate, he changed his name to the Tanzanian one he uses today.
In an effort to share a love for physics and his fascination with African culture, Mtingwa works extensively with colleagues on an international level. In 2002, for example, he helped to establish the African Laser Centre, a non-profit organization based in Pretoria, South Africa. The organization promotes research and training programs at major laser research facilities, provides grants for studies, hosts conferences, and helps to expand laser research facilities in Africa.
"People were mainly working in isolation, the biggest outcome of the center is the collaboration with other researchers," Mtingwa said.
Mtingwa, who travels to Africa about twice a year, is the senior physics lecturer in Concourse at MIT and is faculty director of academic programs in MIT's Office of Minority Education.
He received BS degrees in physics and mathematics in 1971 from MIT and his MA and Ph.D degree in theoretical high-energy physics from Princeton in 1976.
He also held postdoctoral positions at the University of Rochester and the University of Maryland, College Park, before serving as a Ford Foundation postdoctoral fellow with the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. There, he and colleague James Bjorken developed the theory of intrabeam scattering, used in many modern accelerators today. Mtingwa went on to work at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois.
In 1991, in what he said was an effort to work more directly with African-American students, Mtingwa took an appointment as physics professor at North Carolina A&T State University. He was also department chair from 1991-1994. Mtingwa supplied the foundations for the current physics graduate program.
"I tried to get more African-Americans involved and wanted to ensure that the students had all of what they needed," Mtingwa said.
After leaving North Carolina A&T, he was for two years Martin Luther King Jr., Visiting Professor of Physics at MIT and two years as Visiting Professor of Physics at Harvard University. These appointments were from 2001 through 2005.
Mtingwa says he believes in the need to encourage interest in the sciences at an early age.
"The study of high-energy physics is almost dead in the U.S. It is mostly led by laboratories in Japan and Europe. We need all the manpower we can get," Mtingwa said.
"We need to break the anxiety people feel about the sciences. The number of people taking physics is low, however it is one of the most fundamental areas out of all of the sciences."
Mtingwa's career activities also include serving on the U.S. Department of Energy's Nuclear Energy Research Advisory Committee from 1998-2008. While there, he worked on the Subcommittee for Isotope Research and Production Planning and worked for an increase in federal funding for universities. Mtingwa continues to serve on the Subcommittee on Advanced Nuclear Transformation Technology.
In 2008, he was named a Lifetime Achievement Finalist by the Benjamin Banneker Institute in Washington D.C. and was named a Fellow of the American Physical Society.
"I am equally connected to my teachings and research," Mtingwa said.
Mtingwa said he enjoys Russian Literature, studying foreign languages and tae kwon do in which he holds a black belt.
Mtingwa, 60, has been married to Estella Johnson for 32 years. They have two daughters, Makazi and Sharifa Mtingwa.