Celebrating Black History Month and Darius Morris

Celebrating Black History Month and Darius Morris

Darius is a Senior Analytical Chemist within our Catalyst business unit in Bayport, Texas. Darius develops and maintains analytical methods used to evaluate raw material, intermediates, and final commercial products (fresh and after they have been used), used for heavy oils upgrading and clean fuel technologies. Darius also helps to troubleshoot R&D, production, and customer issues, and provide quality solutions through more non-routine analysis of samples. Darius was born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina. At the age of 8 he developed a love for mathematics and science fiction, and leveraged these passions into a career in science. He received a bachelor of science degree in Physics from Morehouse College in 2006, PhD in Applied Physics from Rice University in 2012 (Kono Lab; Nonlinear Optical Properties of Highly Aligned Carbon Nanotubes), and postdoc studies at SLAC National Laboratory (6-2C beamline; X-ray Imaging and Microscopy), before joining Albemarle in 2013. Darius met the love of his life, Jasmine, at a Labor Day party in 2010, where a 47 second meet cute, turned into 10 years of happiness. Darius became a proud father to Jordyn Marie in June, which has allowed him to find happiness and balance during a time where the country has struggled to find some semblance of either. Darius is treasurer of the Houston Morehouse Alumni association and likes to help give back to the community at large. He is also in the process of developing his own tutoring company to help younger students find confidence and their talents within STEM. In his free time, which comes at a premium these days, he enjoys working out, playing basketball, learning new skills - like golf, and exploring opportunities to build wealth.

How did you learn about Albemarle and what was a factor in your decision to the join the team?
While working at SLAC National Laboratory, we looked at Albemarle catalysts on our beamline. Using x-ray absorption spectroscopy, we were able render 3D models of individual catalyst particles. Using these models, we were able to evaluate how accessibility and permeability of catalysts changed with respect to age of the catalyst (we were actually able to turn that into a Nature Communications paper). After working on that project, I researched the company, and applied for a chemist position that they had open (being a physicist, it wasn’t too much of a reach to step into a chemist role, but I knew I would be challenged).

Many people talk about encouraging our young people of color to explore STEM as a career, how were you introduced to STEM and why did you extend your education to the doctorate level?
I fell in love with mathematics first. It was multiplication tables for me. I could do them accurately and much faster than some of my peers, so I gravitated towards it. At that young age, I was also fascinated by the phenomena that came out of one off experiments in science class. That curiosity mixed with a little bit of competitiveness helped me to navigate through a lot of classes that I took later on. I definitely didn’t do it on my own. I attended summer programs geared towards STEM at St. Augustine University and Shaw University, two HBCUs in Raleigh NC. The instruction there prepared me for my upcoming semester each year in high school. And I also had a great teachers in high school, most specifically my calculus and physics teachers, in which I ended up majoring in college. I had great mentors at Morehouse, and my peers looked just like me, so growing in STEM was easy then. At Rice, I had an excellent advisor and collaborated with some great scientists, but it was a fellow Morehouse Man, and a director of diversity and inclusion that made Rice feel like home. Representation mattered for me, while at Morehouse and Rice. It’s the reason why I am Dr. Darius Morris.

Who is(are) your biggest role model(s)?
Growing up, my biggest role models were my dad (smart, funny, and at 5’11, he could find his way around on the basketball court) and Michael Jordan (master of his craft, finesse, swagger). In my college years it was my advisor Dr Willie Rockward (physicist, mentoring, teaching, and structure in the classroom), Dr. Walter E. Massey (President of Morehouse, physicist, business man), Dr. Calvin Mackey (mathematician, motivational speaker, mentoring/outreach despite long odds), the Greensboro Four (courage to stand in the face of adversity/racism and move the needle). Currently, my role models include many of my peers (inspiring to see some of the people that I used to party with turn into executives, principals, partners, politicians, and doctors that I still party with), Josh Kaufman (learn any skill in 20 hours), Kobe Bryant (unwavering focus, work ethic), and my mom (always smiling through the pain).

What challenges have you had to overcome (if any) to achieve the accomplishments you have to date?
I would say that getting a PhD in Applied Physics at Rice University has been one of my biggest challenges. And then shifting gears and working in a Chemistry dominant field took things to another level of difficult. The curriculum at Rice is rigorous, the coursework is difficult, and setting up the perfect experiment with a temperamental laser, sensitive sample, while pushing the limits of your detector makes my head hurt just thinking about it. I worked hard, and proved that I knew my physics information, so transitioning into chemistry was almost like resetting the clock. At Albemarle, I stick close to my physics guns: I know lasers, instrumentation, and the scientific method, which are perfect for method development. And with every project I get a chance to learn more about the technology and the research being done. It’s challenging, but I live for it.

What is one achievement or action you are most proud of that has had an impact on the black community?
I give back through my tutoring and mentoring. I’ve also joined many panel discussions with some of my peers currently in academia. I think that the youth are the ones to push us forward. They need a little help making the subject matter less intimidating and digestible. I start small, get them get a few wins to build trust, then we dig deeper. I help them to set clear and measurable goals that are attainable, and hold them accountable for meeting them. We put emphasis on the information that’s relevant, and find some appeal in the things that aren’t. Above all, I make sure that they are becoming more resourceful, and know how to go out and find their own answers. I also like to share my story: talk about all of the things that I’ve felt that I did right, but we also discuss the things that I did wrong, or that I didn’t do at all, and how at 36 years old I’m making them right. It’s helped a lot of students find their passion (I even had one that almost went on to study physics). A lot of the work that I have done has been on a student by student basis. Now I’m figuring out how to broaden that impact with my SAT/ACT prep courses.

What legacy to you desire to leave?
I want to be remembered as a great father, husband, son, brother, and person. I want to be remembered as a thinker and a teacher, one of the smartest people in the room. I want people to feel like I shared my talents with them, and helped make their lives better, whether directly or indirectly. I want to build wealth for (and with) myself, my family, and my friends. Like DL Hughley said “I want them to miss me when I’m gone!”

What is one thing you want people to know about Darius Morris?
One thing that I want people to know about me is that I’m an empath. I approach all tasks with the end user in mind. I’ll do the most of the leg work on the front end, so that you don’t have to do much on the back end. I want them to get the most from the information without taking up too much of their time. “I’ll go 90, you go 10”. I think my love language is acts of service.

What keeps you motivated in your career and in your personal life?
Getting the opportunity to learn new things keeps me motivated! I get satisfaction from the process of searching for an answer through research and experiment, but I love the eureka moment in the end. I also know that my daughter and my students are watching how I move and they feed off of my energy. If I ask them to trust the process, then I have to live by it. Hopefully it fosters their curiosity, and encourages them to want to learn more. 

Have you taken the path you expected/planned to take in life? Yes or no, what were the drivers that allowed you to achieve or what caused you to pivot?
I can say that I definitely ended up where I wanted to be, but I wish that I was a bit further along in my career and outreach efforts. My family, teachers, mentors, advisors, and colleagues have driven me to where I am today. Because there were people who invested so much time into my education, health, wealth and overall well-being, I have a responsibility to go back and try to do it for others.