Understanding Our Place In The Universe

Tuesday, April 18, 2023
by Phie Jacobs

Martin Luther King Jr. Scholar Brian Nord trains machines to explore the cosmos and fights for equity in research.

Nord is continuing this research at MIT as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Visiting Scholars and Professors Program. Earlier this year, he joined the Laboratory for Nuclear Science (LNS), with Jesse Thaler in the Department of Physics and Center for Theoretical Physics (CTP) as his faculty host. Thaler is the director of the National Science Foundation’s Institute for Artificial Intelligence and Fundamental Interactions (IAIFI). Since arriving on campus, Nord has focused his efforts on exploring the potential of AI to design new scientific experiments and instruments. These processes ordinarily take an enormous amount of time, he explains, but AI could rapidly accelerate them. “Could we design the next particle collider or the next telescope in less than five years, instead of 30?” he wonders.

“Artificial intelligence can give us models that are more flexible than what we can create ourselves with pen and paper,” Nord explains. “In a lot of cases, it does better than humans do.”

In recent years, Nord has attempted to develop methods to make the application of AI more ethical, and his work has focused on the broad intersections between ethics, justice, and scientific discovery. His efforts to combat racism in STEM have established him as a leader in the movement to address inequities and oppression in academic and research environments. In June of 2020, he collaborated with members of Particles for Justice — a group that boasts MIT professors Daniel Harlow and Tracy Slatyer, as well as former MLK Visiting Scholar and CTP researcher Chanda Prescod-Weinstein — to create the academic Strike for Black Lives. The strike, which emerged as a response to the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many others, called on the academic community to take a stand against anti-Black racism.

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