Jamaica’s Charlyne Smith has become the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering from the University of Florida (UF). “I’m so honored to have made history as the first black woman to graduate with a #PhD in #NuclearEngineering from the #universityofflorida on the day of #Jamaica’s independence anniversary”, she wrote on Twitter on August 10.
Smith said growing up in St. Catherine, her dream was to become a scientist and inventor to be able to bring solutions to some of the problems of Jamaicans, including insufficient electrical power and clean water. Before attending the University of Florida, Smith was a student at Coppin State University (CSU) in Baltimore, Maryland, where she graduated with a degree in chemistry and mathematics in 2017.
Smith studied “fruits with dark pigments to create dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs), hypothesizing that these cells would absorb enough ultraviolet radiation (UV) to power large devices,” according to jamaicans.com. But she realized that this would not bring a quick solution to the energy needs of third-world countries. Thus, after meeting with a nuclear scientist, Dr. Nickie Peters, at an alumni event at CSU, she decided to follow a career in the nuclear field, determined that nuclear technology would provide immediate change.
In 2018, Smith received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to study at the University of Florida’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering.
Smith, having been to the United States, has become aware of the disparity between the reliable energy available in the U.S. compared to the unreliable energy supply in Jamaica. And that is why she is working so hard to make sure that the next generation of Jamaican children “will never know a day without access to clean water and reliable electricity”, jamaicans.com. reported.
Currently, Jamaica operates the only nuclear reactor in the Caribbean, but that nuclear reactor is used mainly for education and training and not for energy purposes. Smith believes the reactor should be used to boost access to reliable energy on the island straight away. And this is why she sought a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering at the University of Florida.
“For me, nuclear is the obvious immediate solution while renewable research takes some time to reach its maximum potential,” she said, according to jamaicans.com. “I do this for the survival of countries like mine,” she added.
Many have since congratulated Smith for making history at the University of Florida. Prime Minister of Jamaica Andrew Holness wrote, “Congratulations to our very own Charlyne Smith, the first black woman to earn a PhD in nuclear engineering from the university of Florida. Charlyne, who grew up in St Catherine and is a former student of my alma mater, the St Catherine High School, graduated with her doctorate from the University of Florida last month.”