Scientists in Black History Month
In honor of Black History Month, the Research & Collections Division would like to recognize the achievements of a selection of pioneering scientists, as listed below.
African American Scientists
Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806): Born into a family of free blacks in Maryland, Banneker learned the rudiments of reading, writing, and arithmetic from his grandmother and a Quaker schoolmaster. Later he taught himself advanced mathematics and astronomy. He is best known for publishing an almanac based on his astronomical calculations.
Rebecca Cole (1846-1922): Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Cole was the second black woman to graduate from medical school (1867). She joined Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first white woman physician, in New York and taught hygiene and childcare to families in poor neighborhoods.
Edward Alexander Bouchet (1852-1918): Born in New Haven, Connecticut, Bouchet was the first African American to graduate (1874) from Yale College. In 1876, upon receiving his Ph.D. in physics from Yale, he became the first African American to earn a doctorate. Bouchet spent his career teaching college chemistry and physics.
Dr. Daniel Hale Williams (1856-1931): Williams was born in Pennsylvania and attended medical school in Chicago, where he received his M.D. in 1883. He founded the Provident Hospital in Chicago in 1891, and he performed the first successful open heart surgery in 1893.
George Washington Carver (1865?-1943): Born into slavery in Missouri, Carver later earned degrees from Iowa Agricultural College. The director of agricultural research at the Tuskegee Institute from 1896 until his death, Carver developed hundreds of applications for farm products important to the economy of the South, including the peanut, sweet potato, soybean, and pecan.
Charles Henry Turner (1867-1923): A native of Cincinnati, Ohio, Turner received a B.S. (1891) and M.S. (1892) from the University of Cincinnati and a Ph.D. (1907) from the University of Chicago. A noted authority on the behavior of insects, he was the first researcher to prove that insects can hear.
Ernest Everett Just (1883-1941): Originally from Charleston, South Carolina, Just attended Dartmouth College and the University of Chicago, where he earned a Ph.D. in zoology in 1916. Just's work on cell biology took him to marine laboratories in the U.S. and Europe and led him to publish more than 50 papers.
Archibald Alexander (1888-1958): Iowa-born Alexander attended Iowa State University and earned a civil engineering degree in 1912. While working for an engineering firm, he designed the Tidal Basin Bridge in Washington, D.C. Later he formed his own company, designing Whitehurst Freeway in Washington, D.C. and an airfield in Tuskegee, Alabama, among other projects.
Roger Arliner Young (1889-1964): Ms. Young was born in Virginia and attended Howard University, University of Chicago, and University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a Ph.D. in zoology in 1940. Working with her mentor, Ernest E. Just, she published a number of important studies.
Percy L. Julian (1899-1975): Alabama-born Julian held a bachelor's degree from DePauw University, a master's degree from Harvard University, and a Ph.D. from the University of Vienna. His most famous achievement is his synthesis of cortisone, which is used to treat arthritis and other inflammatory diseases.
Dr. Charles Richard Drew (1904-1950): Born in Washington, D.C., Drew earned advanced degrees in medicine and surgery from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, in 1933 and from Columbia University in 1940. He is particularly noted for his research in blood plasma and for setting up the first blood bank.
Emmett Chappelle (1925-): Born in Phoenix, Arizona, Chappelle earned a B.S. from the University of California and an M.S. from the University of Washington. He joined NASA in 1977 as a remote sensing scientist. Among Chappelle's discoveries is a method (developed with Grace Picciolo) of instantly detecting bacteria in water, which led to the improved diagnoses of urinary tract infections.
James West (b. 1931): James West was born in 1931 in Prince Edward County, Virginia, and studied physics at Temple University. Specializing in microphones, West went on to author 200 patents and more than 60 technical and scientific publications. In 1962, with Gerhard Sessler, West developed the foil electret microphone, which became the industry standard. Approximately 90% of microphones in use today are based on this invention and almost all telephones utilize it, as well as tape recorders, camcorders, baby monitors and hearing aids.
Philip Emeagwali (b. 1954): Born in Nigeria in 1954, Philip Emeagwali's determination to succeed grew out of a life of poverty and little formal education. An expert in mathematics, physics, and astronomy, Emeagwali won the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers' Gordon Bell Prize in 1989 for an experiment that used 65,000 processors to perform the world's fastest computation of 3.1 billion calculations per second. Emeagwali's computers are currently being used to forecast the weather and predict future global warming.
Aprille Ericsson (b. 1963): Born and raised in Brooklyn, N. Y., M.I.T graduate Aprille Ericsson was the first female (and the first African-American female) to receive a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Howard University and the first African-American female to receive a Ph.D. in engineering at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Ericsson has won many awards, including the 1997 "Women in Science and Engineering" award for the best female engineer in the federal government, and she is currently the instrument manager for a proposed mission to bring dust from the Martian lower atmosphere back to Earth.