Meet the Native American Physicist with Many Names

This Native American scientist went by three different names throughout his life—Clever Fox, Fred Young, and Fred Begay.

Clever Fox was born on the Ute Mountain Indian reservation in 1932. He was raised in the traditional Navajo way, learning their religion and how to hunt and farm. He asked questions about the natural world. He was very interested in how rainbows are made. Clever Fox was not always satisfied with the answers he received. He was named Clever Fox by his tribe because of his questions and clever ideas.

When Clever Fox was 10, he was sent to a boarding school where he learned English. The leaders of the school gave him the English name, Fred Young. They trained him to be a farmer. After finishing school, he served in the military, and fought in the Korean War.

Young went on to go to college, but it was not an easy road. His training to be a farmer had not prepared him, so he had to take high school classes at night. He remained curious about the natural world and continued to ask questions about light. In 1971, he became the first Native American to receive a PhD in physics [the study of matter, energy, and forces]. He changed his name to Fred Begay.

Begay was a very respected physicist. He worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and did work for NASA. He helped the Navajo and other Native American communities through his work. Begay encouraged other Navajos to pursue careers in science. He believed that his Navajo background had prepared him to think like a scientist.

What Do You Think?   How might a Native American background prepare one to think like a scientist?

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