Tonight’s broadcast of the PBS science show NOVA will feature Arlie Petters, who attended Princeton as a graduate student and who is now a professor at Duke whose current research is on the cutting edge of mathematical physics.

Petters tells NOVA how his personal journey shaped his professional research:

“When I first came to the U.S., I had this thick Belizean accent,” he says. “I felt I belonged in a community of African-Americans; I had many friends and so on. At the same time, everyone kept teasing me: ‘You speak in such a strange way.’ So as an immigrant, I felt a little like I was in this no-man’s-land. And if you look at my work, I touch on pure math, I touch on astrophysics. I’m even doing mathematical finance, right? I do quite a mixture of things. I think of myself, deep in my heart, as a citizen of the world. When you feel you’re in no-man’s-land, well, you can view it that way, or you can view the glass as half full in that I engage in all these different cultures and a little bit of each comes into me.”

In the NOVA interview, Petters also offers a beautifully metaphorical explanation of how gravity bends light and talks about the Petters Institute in Dangriga, Belize, whose goal is to nurture young Belizeans interested in pursuing math and science.

This fall Petters will be a guest professor in Princeton’s Department of Operations Research and Financial Engineering, home to one of his mentors, William Massey.