Julianne Pollard-Larkin, Maurangelo Petruzzella, and K. Renee Horton
We Are Scientists
Diverse voices shape modern physics. Hear from luminaries Julianne Pollard-Larkin, Maurangelo Petruzzella, and K. Renee Horton as they share their unique journeys in space, photonics, and medicine.
K. Renee Horton, Ph.D., Airworthiness Deputy, NASA

A renowned trailblazer who has dedicated her life to science and space exploration, Baton Rouge native K. Renee Horton earned her BS in Electrical Engineering with a minor in Math from Louisiana State University in 2002 before going on to become the first Black person to earn a Ph.D. in Materials Science with a concentration in Physics from the University of Alabama. She is the Air Worthiness Deputy for NASA’s Electrified Powertrain Flight Demonstrator project, the second woman elected President of the National Society of Black Physicists, an accomplished speaker, the author of the “Dr. H” series of educational children’s books, and a powerful advocate for diversity and inclusion in the physics community. Her remarkable journey is an inspiration — and a reminder that no barrier should stand between us and the stars.

The Power of Flight

K. Renee Horton’s path to physics was winding and unconventional, but her tale is one of community, passion, and perseverance.

The Element of Shift

K. Renee Horton made her home on the bayou of New Orleans, where she grew up. It’s also home to NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility, where groundbreaking work is underway to send humans back to the moon — and beyond.

Meet Maurangelo Petruzzella, Ph.D., Managing Director at MantiSpectra

A thought leader and former APL Photonics Future Luminary Award winner, Maurangelo Petruzzella has dedicated his life and career to creating practical solutions to real-world problems through the use of photonics. Born in Terlizzi, Italy, in 1989, he received his MSc in Physics from the University of Bari, Italy, in 2013 and his Ph.D. in Applied Physics from the Eindhoven University of Technology in 2017. He is the CEO and co-founder of MantiSpectra, a company making spectral analysis — predicting the composition of materials through the use of light — broadly accessible across myriad fields and novel applications. For Petruzzella, the work is about the impact: It’s great to make brilliant leaps forward in the laboratory, but how can we ensure those advances go on to improve lives?

The Element of Change

Congratulations: You’ve made a breakthrough! But what happens next? Maurangelo Petruzzella can envision a world greatly improved through readily accessible spectral analysis.

The Power of Light

Maurangelo Petruzzella is taking the power and potential of spectral analysis out of the lab and putting it into your pocket — maybe sooner than you think.

Meet Julianne Pollard-Larkin, Ph.D., Physics Section Chief, Thoracic Service, MD Anderson Cancer Center

Julianne Pollard-Larkin is the Physics Section Chief of Thoracic Service within the Department of Radiation Physics at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. She grew up in Miami, Florida, and an early childhood fascination with science developed into a fascination with the stars when she saw a famous photograph of groundbreaking NASA astronaut Mae Jemison floating in space. Her path set, she earned dual BS degrees in Physics and Mathematics at the University of Miami — but a chance encounter with a medical physicist opened her eyes to a new, fascinating course. She went on to become the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D. in Biomedical Physics from the University of California, Los Angeles, and began her career at MD Anderson Cancer Center in 2008.

The Element of Chance

After her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, Julianne Pollard-Larkin accompanied her to a radiation therapy treatment, where she met a medical physicist — and her life changed forever.

The Power of Impact

Julianne Pollard-Larkin has been fighting for her dream and the dreams of countless underrepresented others. Hear about her efforts to ensure students of any background feel empowered — no matter who might say “No.”