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Jessica Esquivel Rocks

from Nautilus

What a Real Superhero Looks Like

Particle physicist Jessica Esquivel on diversity, perseverance, and the search for a new understanding of our universe.

By Mary Ellen Hannibal

Jessica Esquivel with some of the equipment at the Muon g-2 project. 

The physics of superheroes is more than a fun exercise in the world of Jessica Esquivel. A particle physicist in the Muon Department of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, Esquivel works at what she calls “the bleeding edge” of the known universe. In the world of physics, Esquivel is frequently the “only.” The only woman, the only Mexican, the only black person, and the only lesbian. 

Recently she brought her experience to Wakandacon, the comic book conference based on the African-centric world of Black Panther. Making her own costume, Esquivel cosplayed as Shuri, the technological genius who designs weaponry for her brother, Black Panther. Esquivel also organized a panel of black scientists and was on hand to answer questions at Fermilab’s booth at the conference. To many women of color interested in the hard sciences, Esquivel herself is a superhero.

You knew you wanted to be an astrophysicist from a young age. How did you get the idea? 

My aunt babysat for me when I was really young and we watched a lot of sci-fi shows on television. One featured an astronaut in space fighting aliens while an astrophysicist back at NASA directed him to press this or that button, go right, go left—it was very dramatic. I thought the astrophysicist was the actual hero in the story, so I walked around saying I was going to be one. I grew up in Texas, and when I was about 12 my family took me to NASA in Houston. They sprang for the VIP tour, but I was bored! There was no astronaut floating in space on the screen, and everyone was typing on their keyboards and drinking coffee.

On that same trip we saw astronauts and a space shuttle in a big pool, simulating the absence of gravity in space. The scientists working on this were engineers, so I changed my ambition and said, “okay, I’ll be an engineer and work on that.”

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Posted on November 6, 2020 by Editor

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