Dr. Zohra Aziza Baccouche – Nuclear Physicist

Dr. Zohra Aziza Baccouche

“Strength is acquired through endurance over time.” – Dr. Baccouche [8]

Profile

Dr. Baccouche. Source: [3]

Name: Dr. Zohra Aziza Baccouche

Life: Born 1976/1977 (42 or 43 years old at time of writing)

Born: Tunisia

Degree(s):

BS Physics, Hampton University

MS Physics, College of William and Mary

PhD Theoretical Nuclear Physics, University of Maryland, College Park

Occupation: Nuclear Physicist, Filmmaker

[1][2][3][4][5][6]

Who is Dr. Zohra Aziza Baccouche?

Dr. Baccouche is a formally trained nuclear physicist, focusing primarily on theoretical nuclear physics. In addition to this she is a science media producer via her media production company: AZIZA Productions, which focuses on communicating science to the lay public through film and television.

[1][3][5]

Early life + Cause of blindness

Not much is known about Dr. Baccouches early life. She was born and raised in Tunisia to an African-American mother and Tunisian father, however she went blind when she was 8 due to a slow growing tumor that ended up irreparably damaging her optic nerve. Following this, she went to a school for the blind whilst she lived in Tunisia, but eventually her parents decided to move back to the US – the country where her mother was from.[1][2][4][7][8]

A young Dr. Baccouche. Source: https://bit.ly/2B5yrib 

Following her family’s move back to the states, she attended a regular high school and in her senior year she took physics where she immediately fell in love with the subject. She recalls a lot of her enthusiasm was due to her physics teacher making the effort to include her in her lessons, where he never excluded her from lab experiments and never discouraged her from pursuing science as a career even though she was legally blind. [2]

 

Following these positive experiences she continued on to the College of William and Mary in Virginia to do a degree in physics, however not everyone was as accommodating as her high school science class. She recalls how most of the traditional science was not accessible to her throughout her time studying, due to her being the first blind person to study at the school; she found it difficult to do her coursework as it was left to her to find herself readers and in addition to this most of the textbooks were not on tape. Even when she did manage to get audio versions of her textbooks on tape, technology then was not what it is now and she mentions how something as a simple as “turning back to page 10” was not easy for her. [2]

 This ended up forcing her to memorise as much as she could, and though all the formulae and equations she learnt made physics easier for her in the long-term, it was still a great burden forced on her as she was already at a disadvantage due to being disabled in a unaccommodating environment where she was left without support. To quote her in an interview with the Institute of Physics (IOP): “The first thing that people see is my disability. After that, they notice that I am a woman and also African-American so it’s like a three-strike situation. This was the reality, especially as I was in a predominantly white male department, so it was really hard for me to feel like I belonged”.[2]

Dr. Baccouche. Source: [4]

During all of this her health was not perfect: to treat her brain tumour meant she underwent and survived seven brain operations over the course of her life. As previously stated, the damage to her optic nerve due to the tumor was the cause of her blindness, but her vision – her internal life calling to achieve her dreams despite the challenges being blind had never wavered. Through all of this she graduated with her Bachelors in physics in 1995 and then received her Masters from Hampton University. [1][4]

 

Career

Following her years as an undergraduate her love for physics had not faded and Dr. Baccouche began her PhD. She enrolled at the University of Maryland at College Park to complete research in theoretical nuclear physics (studying heavy baryons) and during this time applied for the American Associations Mass Media Science & Engineering fellowship – which she won![1][2][3][4]

Through this fellowship she was assigned to CNN Atlanta and though it was only supposed to last 10 weeks it was extended to over three months, to the point where she even took a semester off from her PhD to focus on it. This increased her knowledge of science communication and improved her confidence in teaching science and changing the views of the public on what disabled people of colour can achieve. [1][2][3][4]

Aziza Productions

By 2000 she had set up her own media production company, Aziza Productionsin which she is currently the CEO and president and in 2002 she received her doctorate in physics officially earning the title Dr. Zohra Aziza Baccouche. [1][2][3][4][5][6]

Afterwards Aziza became a regular science producer and correspondent for Evening Exchange on Howard University Television, a PBS affiliate station and still worked with CNN. Additionally, through Aziza Productions she makes short films for science-based non-profit organizations, focusing on minority communities in scienceCurrently she is working on producing a film entitled “Seeking Vision” which will focus on informing the public on the abilities of people who are blind like herself. [1][2][4]

A link to the Gofundme page can be found here: https://uk.gofundme.com/seeking-vision-film-campaign 

References:

References are categorised by the following types:

🗒️= Written

🎧= Audio

💻= Video

[1]🗒️ – Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aziza_Baccouche 

[2]🗒️ – IOP article [Interview] – http://www.iop.org/careers/working-life/articles/2017/page_69233.html

[3]🗒️ – National Society of Black Physicists – https://www.nsbp.org/nsbp-news/bhm-physics-profiles/2017-honorees/14-aziza-baccouche 

[4]🗒️ – National Society of Black Physicists conference profile [DOWNLOAD HERE] – http://www.cvent.com/events/2018-national-society-of-black-physicists-conference/speakers-d23414385ab64685bc59cb54de520954.aspx?dvce=1

[5]🗒️ – Virginia Tech Article – https://vtnews.vt.edu/articles/2011/03/031611-science-baccouche.html

[6]🗒️ – Dr.Aziza.com profile – http://www.draziza.com/bio.html

[7]💻 – Dr. Baccouche “Seeking vision” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qIydHHaIgLM

[8]💻 – Dr. Baccouche Ted Talk – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zdWF3tb5Rgc 

For more information on Dr. Baccouche see the following recources:

Her Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/z-aziza-baccouche-ph-d-aka-dr-z-4b995b5/

Gofundme to make her “Seeking Vision” film: https://uk.gofundme.com/seeking-vision-film-campaign

1999 American Physics Society article: https://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/199904/massmedia.cfm

Some of Dr. Baccouches published research: https://www.researchgate.net/scientific-contributions/35710922_Z_Aziza_Baccouche

Authors Note: Dr. Baccouche has achieved much in her career as a scientist and a filmmaker and most of this was due to her amazing hard work, consistency and perseverance. Whilst all of these are outstanding traits to have, the truth is she should not have had to work as hard as she did to get to the point she is at now. She talks in interviews about being the only person of colour and only woman throughout much of her career and on top of all of that she was blind, which caused many barriers for her. Again she has managed to get over every hurdle she has faced but the point remains that she should not have faced them in the first place. Memorising countless equations may have benefited her in the long run but is an extremely stressful amount of work to undertake as an already marginalised undergraduate. If we are working towards a truly equal and diverse academic environment then accessibility for disabled people needs to be a priority as not only is it morally the right thing to do, but leads to better science for all.

For more information on scientists of colour please visit our resources page or read through the rest of our blog. We are constantly updating both.

Written by Karel Green. For more information see the about page or follow her on Twitter @thisismeonline.

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