Ronald Elbert Mickens (1943- )

Ronald Mickens (right) with Dr. Henry McBay at his office at Clark Atlanta University, July 1994
Courtesy AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Ronald E. Mickens Collection, Fair use image

Ronald Elbert Mickens is the Fuller E. Calloway Professor of Physics at Clark-Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia. Born in Petersburg, Virginia, on February 7, 1943, he was the son of Joseph Mickens and Daisy Brown Mickens but was raised by his maternal grandparents. His grandfather, James Williamson, inspired Mickens to become a scientist at age eight. At Peabody High School in Petersburg, he did well in mathematics and physics and entered Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, on full scholarship at age seventeen.

In 1964, Mickens graduated summa cum laude from Fisk with a bachelor’s degree in physics and one of the highest grade point averages in the university’s history. Four years later, he was awarded a doctorate in theoretical physics at Vanderbilt University with the dissertation Branch Points in the Complex Angular-Momentum Plane. An exceptional student, he was elected to Sigma Xi and Phi Beta Kappa honor societies. Having earlier received a Danforth Fellowship and a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, he received a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship to study elementary particle physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Mickens left MIT in 1970 to teach physics at Fisk. Over the next twelve years, he also conducted research at Vanderbilt and the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics in Boulder, Colorado. During this period, he received grants from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and a Ford Foundation Fellowship. He began teaching at Clark-Atlanta in 1982 and, when awarded the 1984-1985 United Negro College Fund Distinguished Faculty Fellowship, was concurrently made Callaway Professor of Physics.

In addition to publishing more than 120 scientific papers he published the following books as solo author: An Introduction to Non-Linear Oscillations (1981); Difference Equations: Theory and Applications (1987); Nonstandard Finite Difference Models of Differential Equations (1994); Oscillations in Planar Dynamic Systems (1996); Mathematics and Science (1998); Mathematical Methods for the Natural and Engineering Sciences (2004); Advances in the Applications of Nonstandard Finite Difference Schemes (2005); Truly Nonlinear Oscillations: Harmonic Balance, Parameter Expansions, Iteration, and Averaging Methods (2010).

As editor, he compiled Nonstandard Finite Difference Models of Differential Equations (1993). As a historian of African Americans in science, he authored Edward Bouchet: The First African American Doctorate (2002), edited Science and Technology (1989), and self-published and edited the tribute to African American physicists titled The African American Presence in Physics (1999).

Mickens’ scientific research interests have included chaos theory, mathematical epidemiology, complex functions, high-order perturbation techniques, theoretical elementary particle physics, and modeling of non-linear oscillations. Elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 1999, his efforts to publicize the good work of Black scientists have not gone unnoticed, as he was appointed to serve as Historian for the National Society of Black Physicists. Mickens and his wife Maria have two children: daughter Lea Mickens and son Dr. James W. Mickens, a computer science professor at Harvard University.