American Institute of Physics
Press Release

2023 Joseph A. Johnson Award Goes to Yale University Professor of Physics

NOV 12, 2023
Charles D. Brown II recognized for pioneering research and intergenerationally connecting Black physicists across the globe; Dante O’Hara and Danielle Speller receive Honorable Mentions

Charles D. Brown II, winner of the 2023 Joseph A. Johnson Award for Excellence

Andrew Hurley

WASHINGTON, Nov. 12, 2023 – AIP and the National Society of Black Physicists congratulate Charles D. Brown II as the winner of the 2023 Joseph A. Johnson Award for Excellence. Dante O’Hara and Danielle Speller are also being recognized with Honorable Mentions.

The Johnson Award, now in its fourth year, is given by AIP and NSBP to recognize early-career scientists who demonstrate scientific ingenuity and impactful mentorship and service – the core values of NSBP founder Joseph A. Johnson.

“We are excited to recognize Dr. Brown’s impact on the physics community,” said Michael Moloney, CEO of AIP. “He is cultivating breakthroughs in experimental research with ultracold atoms and as a hardworking advocate who connects the Black physics community while shining much-needed light on persistent inequities.”

Charles D. Brown II was selected for this honor for pioneering experimental research that reveals the optical, mechanical, and thermal properties of levitated superfluid helium drops in vacuum, and for developing a new technique with ultracold atoms to probe topological aspects of band structure. The Johnson Award also recognizes Brown for diligently supporting the needs of the larger Black physics community on social media platforms by initiating virtual professional development conferences, intergenerationally connecting Black physicists across the globe, and championing Black physics authors to publish their unique perspectives in #BlackInPhysicsWeek.

“Each year we are inspired by the high-caliber candidates for the Johnson Award – for the way they move physics forward and the impact of their mentorship,” said Hakeem Oluseyi, president of the National Society of Black Physicists. “For 2023, we are also recognizing Dr. O’Hara and Dr. Speller for their contributions to science and remarkable efforts to champion change. All three of the physicists we’re recognizing this year demonstrate a passion for the physical sciences and the hard work needed to elevate young Black scholars. Their efforts exemplify the legacy of Dr. Joseph A. Johnson.”

Get to Know the 2023 Joseph A. Johnson Award Winners and Honorable Mentions

Charles D. Brown II, Assistant Professor, Yale Department of Physics

Brown grew up in Las Vegas and, from an early age, harbored a deep curiosity for understanding the science behind everyday phenomena. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Minnesota and earned his doctorate from Yale University, where he is currently an assistant professor.

His groundbreaking research experimentally explores the nature of matter through the behavior of ultracold atoms moving through grids of light, but his contributions to physics extend far beyond the laboratory. Brown co-organized the annual Black In Physics Week, which started in October 2020, to increase the visibility of Black physicists and their scientific achievements.

“I’m quite proud of my team at Yale, with whom I’m building the synthetic quasicrystal experiment using ultracold atoms,” Brown said. “I’m also quite proud of #BlackInPhysicsWeek, including the many virtual events and the millions that we reached on social media, the large collection of essays co-published by Physics Today and Physics World, as well as the significant impact we had on the historical record by ensuring that many deserving Black physicists who didn’t previously have a Wikipedia page now have one.”

A leader in NSBP, Brown continually works to support Black physicists through mentorship, advocacy, and science communication. He fosters a vibrant and diverse academic environment by increasing access to science for the benefit of society.

“I’m deeply honored to receive the J.A. Johnson III award, especially given our shared experience as Yale physics Ph.D. graduates,” said Brown. “Professor Johnson was an academic leader who was impactful in scientific research on turbulent plasmas, in the lives of students that he mentored, and through the organizations that he was instrumental in founding. That his namesake carries an award for excellence is fitting for him, and I’m moved by the idea that I am carrying on the legacy of a historically important physicist like Professor Johnson.”


Dante O’Hara and Danielle Speller, recipients of Joseph A. Johnson Award for Excellence Honorable Mentions


Dante J. O’Hara, Materials Engineer at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory

Dante J. O’Hara received an Honorable Mention for his extraordinary work developing the next generation of quantum materials and searching for room-temperature single photon emitters to overcome limitations in computing. Growing up in Oceanside, California, O’Hara applied his engineering aptitude to upgrading his pickup truck and mechanical maintenance. After graduating with a doctorate in materials science from the University of California, Riverside, he joined the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. As a resident of the nation’s capital, O’Hara fights for social justice and helps mentor and educate members of the Washington, D.C., community.

“African American students, in particular, need a sense of community and support because many, like me, suffered from a sense of trauma and isolation through science programs that were particularly oriented towards white men,” said O’Hara. “It is also important, not only for individuals and employers to get involved with fellowship and outreach programs, but for scientists to be involved with the communities that they live in and to make a positive social impact. For far too long, scientists have had a passive contribution in social change, and that needs to be altered.”

Danielle Speller, Assistant Professor in the William H. Miller III Department of Physics, Johns Hopkins University

Johns Hopkins University Assistant Professor Danielle Speller received an Honorable Mention for her work pursuing neutrinoless double-beta decay and dark matter detection. She earned her doctorate in physics from the University of California, Berkley. Now, Speller not only pursues the secrets of the universe but also helps share them through science outreach and mentorship. As the faculty advisor of SPS and the graduate student NBSP chapter, she serves as a mentor and role model for many.

“Being a human who works in science with other humans also means that you will likely face both professional and interpersonal challenges that can vary tremendously from person to person,” said Speller. “Mentors help provide support, insight, and an alternative perspective, and in the best cases, do so in ways that really enhance the ability to fully engage and remain engaged in the scientific process. I think this is particularly true when someone joins a field with a different background or way of thinking than most of its incumbents – the person’s mentor can help amplify and sustain new, relevant questions and viewpoints that might otherwise be overlooked or disregarded in the traditional field.”

The award and honorable mentions will be presented at the 2023 National Society of Black Physicists Annual Conference on Nov. 12, in Knoxville, Tennessee.



Joseph A. Johnson III, of Florida A&M University, was a pioneering and renowned experimental physicist, mentor to many Black doctoral students, and a founder of the National Society of Black Physicists. In honor of his iconic legacy, the American Institute of Physics and NSBP have partnered to recognize an NSBP experimental physicist who exemplifies Johnson’s ingenuity as a scientist and passion for mentorship and service. This honor comes with a $5,000 award along with an invitation to give physics department colloquia at partner universities.


Founded in 1977 at Morgan State University, the mission of the National Society of Black Physicists is to promote the professional well-being of African American physicists and physics students within the international scientific community and within society at large. The organization seeks to develop and support efforts to increase opportunities for African Americans in physics and to increase their numbers and visibility of their scientific work. It also seeks to develop activities and programs that highlight and enhance the benefits of the scientific contributions that African American physicists provide for the international community. The society seeks to raise the general knowledge and appreciation of physics in the African American community.


The mission of AIP (American Institute of Physics ) is to advance, promote, and serve the physical sciences for the benefit of humanity. AIP is a federation that advances the success of our 10 Member Societies and an institute that operates as a center of excellence supporting the physical sciences enterprise. In its role as an institute, AIP uses policy analysis, social science, and historical research to promote future progress in the physical sciences. AIP is a 501(c)(3) membership corporation of scientific societies.