Young physicists: don’t limit yourselves. Take all of the opportunities that come your way. Apply for everything. Experience everything. Take the chance, because why not?
Brian Beckford entered Florida International University without really knowing what he wanted to do. He was good at math, so engineering seemed like a natural fit, but as a young black male in the U.S., Brian’s college life was complicated by racism and discrimination. The weight of feeling unwelcome and constantly being stopped by police for no reason took a toll, so Brian decided to drop out of college and began working in the hospitality industry.
He quickly rose through the ranks and became a hotel manager, but his mother, who valued education, was disappointed that he hadn’t graduated from college. Over time, Brian saw the limitations of advancing in hospitality without formal education and felt the urge to return to school. Still unsure of the career he wanted to pursue, he enrolled in a variety of general courses, including one on the philosophy of religion, and fell in love with the idea of becoming a philosopher. In search of a better understanding of how things work, Brian explored topics like the effects of quantum mechanics on macro-philosophy, free will, and determinism, which prompted a professor to suggest he look into physics.
In his physics courses, Brian was exposed to many other interesting questions about life and the universe. He became a physics major and decided to focus on building Cherenkov detectors for hypernuclear experiments. While waiting for the experiment to run, Brian was invited to work on an experiment measuring kaon generation with high-energy photons in Japan. Deciding to follow his curiosity, Brian leapt aboard and became engrossed with the work. One month turned into two, then three, and he ended up sticking with the experiment until the last day of his 90-day visa.
After earning a Master’s degree in Nuclear Physics from Florida International University, Brian pursued a doctoral fellowship at Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan. Though Japan was where Brian first discovered his love for the field, his graduate experience at Tohoku University was difficult. In an international environment, learning physics and conducting research posed a unique yet rewarding challenge, and he spent nearly five years completing his doctoral degree. Brian’s Ph.D. in nuclear physics focused on strangeness photoproduction by electromagnetic interactions.
After graduation, he worked on physics education at the American Physical Society as program manager for the APS Bridge Program. After serving in this role for two and a half years, he joined the KOTO collaboration as a researcher at the University of Michigan. He then focused on high-energy flavor physics research, specifically on rare particle decays as part of the KOTO experiment hosted at the J-PARC laboratory in Tokai-Mura, Japan.
By keeping himself open to a wide range of opportunities and continuously evaluating how they align with his interests, values, and goals, Brian has become a preeminent physicist who now shepherds high-energy physics research in the U.S. His primary responsibility in his current role is pushing the forefront of American discovery by guiding and funding particle physics experiments and personnel at national laboratories and universities.
In addition to his research activities, Brian is a champion for diversity and inclusiveness in physics and astronomy. He is a mentor for the American Physical Society (APS) National Mentoring Community and is passionate about providing opportunities to people of color in STEM. In 2022, he was awarded the APS Excellence in Physics Education Award as a member of the AIP National Task Force to Elevate the Representation of African Americans in Undergraduate Physics & Astronomy (TEAM-UP).
As a Program Manager at the Office of High Energy Physics, Brian oversees the Intensity Frontier Research Program, which is a portfolio of experiments that use high-intensity beams to search for rare processes, dark matter, and neutrinos. He also oversees the US-Japan Research Program at the Office of High Energy Physics, which funds collaborative experiments between the US and Japan in accelerator R&D, microelectronics, intensity frontier physics, energy frontier physics, and AI/ML for high energy physics experiments. He also manages the REACHING A NEW ENERGY SCIENCES WORKFORCE FOR HIGH ENERGY PHYSICS (RENEW-HEP) initiative. The goal of this initiative is to help broaden and diversify the high energy physics community.
When he has free time, Brian focuses on enjoying life’s fleeting moments. He is strongly influenced by buddhist thinking, and strives to appreciate things because of their impermanence. He also tries to live by the principle that a person is as old as their arteries and as young as their ideas. He spends his time also practicing kendo and iaido in a dojo three days a week, cycling, reading, sketching, visiting museums and gardens, and spending time with friends and family.