U.S. Q&A: Black scientist Antentor Hinton Jr. talks role of Juneteenth in STEM, need for diversity in field

Written by: Cara Tabachnick
Published on: Jun 19, 2023

Photo credit: JuliaDorian/Adobe Stock

When Antentor Hinton Jr., was growing up in Asheville, North Carolina, he didn't know he could become a scientist. 

In his sophomore year of college he got a phone call in 2007 that would change his life – and his career trajectory – forever. 

His best childhood friend, Cameron Underwood — a football star and popular student who had taken Hinton, a self-proclaimed "nerd," under his wing during challenging school years — had died suddenly in his sleep. Underwood, who was just 18, "was extremely healthy," and played football in college, said Hinton. Underwood died from neuroblastoma, a tumor that maladapted, said Hinton.

Afterward, Hinton said, "I wanted to do research to be able to design drugs that really could help."

The next step was finding a community of researchers and mentors that could help him succeed — a challenge in a field where just 9% of the STEM field — science, technology, engineering and math — is Black. He was mentored by Dr. E. Dale Abel, an endocrinologist who showed him that a Black man "could head his own division and be excellent." Hinson went on to get his Ph.D. in neuroscience from Baylor College of Medicine.

Now an assistant professor of molecular physiology and biophysics at Vanderbilt University, in addition to his research, Hinton focuses on raising awareness around diversity in science. In March, Hinton, along with 51 other Black scientists, wrote an article on the role of Juneteenth in the science field and the barriers and challenges Black scientists face. 

He spoke with CBS News about struggles faced by Black scientists, including lack of recognition for awards and disparities in funding rates, and the history of racism in science and research.

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