10 Famous Black Scientists

Alice Ball, the first black woman to earn a masters' degree in the United States.
Alice Ball, the first black woman to earn a masters' degree in the United States.

The world of science has seen innovative inventions that have changed human lives from time immemorial. Some of these inventions have been attributed to minority scientists who have had to break barriers put in their way. They have not only made a name for themselves but also in the books of history for their achievements and contributions to the field of science. The following are some of the African American scientists to be recognized for their contributions and achievements.

10. Mae C. Jemison

Mae C. Jemison was the first black woman to go to space. She was born in Alabama on October 17, 1956. She is an engineer as well as a doctor. Jemison is an accomplished scientist who holds several honorary doctorates in engineering, humanities, and science. Her rise to prominence was not easy as she had to battle the racist stereotypes in school. She graduated from Stanford University with a degree in chemical engineering in 1977 and got her degree in medicine in 1981 from Cornell University. Her space career debuted on September 12, 1992, on the STS-47. After resigning from NASA in 1993, she founded the Jemison Group. She served as a professor in Cornell and Dartmouth Universities from 1995 to 2002. She has published a number of books and publications and made television appearances as well as making speeches in high-level meetings.

9. Alice Ball

Alice Ball was the first African American woman to get a masters’ degree. She attained this honor by graduating from the University of Hawaii. Her parents were middle class. Her grandfather was the first black to learn daguerreotype. He was also a photographer. Her father was a newspaper editor, a photographer, and a lawyer. She attended Seattle High School and later moved to the University of Washington where she graduated with top honors in both pharmaceutical chemistry and pharmacy. She published a prestigious journal of the American Chemistry Society. During her studies at the University of Hawaii, she made notable progress in the study of chaulmoogra oil which was being used in the treatment of leprosy. Unfortunately, she fell ill before she could publish her work and she died at the age of 24. In 2000, she was honored for her work and contribution to the world of chemistry by the University of Hawaii and awarded a medal of distinction. Every four years the island of Hawaii celebrates Alice Ball day on February 29.

8. Saint Elmo Brady

Saint Elmo Brady was the first black person to be awarded a Ph.D. in Chemistry in 1916. It was a distinction which he earned in 1916 after graduating from the University of Illinois. He was born on December 22, 1884, in Kentucky Louisville. He graduated from the University of Fisk at the age of 24. From 1915 to 1918 Brady published three abstracts based on his work and through collaboration with Professor Clarence Derrick. He taught for 25 years at Fisk University until his retirement after teaching at Tuskegee and Howard Universities during 1916 to 1920. Brady was included in the university’s honor society, Phil Lambda Upsilon in 1914. He was involved in setting up strong undergraduate curricula for Chemistry and also graduate programs. He also fundraised for the establishment of black colleges and universities. He was married to Myrtle Travers and they had two sons, St Elmo Brady Jr. and Robert. He died on December 25, 1966, in Washington.

7. Marie Maynard Daly

Marie Maynard Daly was the first black woman to be awarded a doctorate in Chemistry. She was born on April 26, 1921, in Corona Queens. She studied in New York at Hunter College High school and graduated with top honors from the Queen's college where she studied chemistry. The ongoing war created the need for top scientists to help in the war effort by the USA. This saw Marie get scholarships to study for her masters and doctorate in New York and Columbia Universities from 1943 to 1947. She completed her thesis under the supervision of Doctor Mary Caldwell. She worked at Howard University from 1947 to 1948 as a science instructor. She also taught at medical schools like Yeshiva University and was recognized by medical associations and research organizations like the New York Academy of Sciences. She died on October 28, 2003, at the age of 82 in New York City.

6. Sylvester James Gates

Sylvester James Gates was born on December 15, 1950, in Tampa Florida. He is known for his research work on supersymmetry. He studied physics at the Massachusetts Institute of technology where he was awarded a Bachelor of Science degree in 1973 and a Ph.D. in 1977 on supersymmetry. He is still active in scientific research at MIT and he has several publications to his name. He had worked University of Maryland physics department and he is currently the physics professor at Brown University. He also was an advisor to US President Barrack Obama in his science and technology team. He was elected to the National Academy of Science in 2013 and he has been awarded honors too. He has also made appearances on the media through commercials and in high-level documentaries.

5. Ronald McNair

Ronald McNair was a physicist and an astronaut working for NASA. He born on October 15, 1951, in South Carolina. He attended Carver high school and graduated with top honors in 1967. He proceeded to study at North Carolina State University where he studied engineering physics and graduated in 1971. He got his Ph.D. in 1976 from MIT. He has been awarded honors and doctorates. He began his career at NASA on February 18, 1984, after being selected in 1978. He was a talented saxophonist and would have performed in space but this dream was cut short in the Challenger disaster of 1986. He was killed when the spacecraft exploded after takeoff.

4. Roger Arliner Young

Roger Arliner Young was the first African American woman to get a doctorate in zoology. She was born in 1889 in Virginia and died in early November 1964. Young went through hardships in her early life. Her mother was disabled and much of the family's resources were used to treat her mother. Young had initially enrolled in Howard University to study music in 1916, but she began to study zoology when Everett Just, a biologist at the university, helped her. She got her Bachelor’s degree in 1924, and her masters’ degree in 1926 from the University of Chicago. Despite the setbacks in her career at Howard University, she managed to secure a doctorate degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1940. She taught at black colleges until 1959, and has several publications and works to her name. She was hospitalized in the late 1950s, and died on November 9, 1964.

3. Edward Bouchet

Edward Bouchet was born in Connecticut New Haven on September 15, 1852. He was a brilliant student from his childhood to high school where he got top honors from New Haven high school and Hopkins Schools from 1866 to 1870. He was a teacher and a physicist who got his credentials from Yale University. However, he was unable to get a teaching position at any major university due to racial discrimination. Instead, he taught physics and chemistry in Philadelphia for 26 years. At the height of the controversy about the necessity for either technical and college education, he resigned from his post. He spent 14 years doing work in schools until he retired due to poor health in 1913. He died in 1916 at his childhood home in New Haven. He was awarded honors by the American Physical Society as well as his former alma mater Yale which founded a graduate society in his honor.

2. Shirley Ann Jackson

Shirley Ann Jackson was the first African American woman to earn a doctorate from MIT. She was born on August 5, 1946. She joined Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study physics in 1964. She got her degree in 1968 and a doctorate in 1973. She taught at several top universities in the US before getting an appointment as the first Black woman to chair the nuclear regulatory commission in 1995 by President Bill Clinton. She has served on several corporate boards and has been given honors from notable organizations like the National Academy of Sciences. She is married and has one child.

1. Lloyd Noal Ferguson

Lloyd Noal Ferguson was born on February 9, 1918 in Oakland, California. He attended Oakland high school and later the University of California, Berkeley where in 1943 he became the the first African American person to obtain a Ph.D. from that university. He worked at the North Carolina Institute and later on at Howard University. He also worked in Europe and moved back to California State University where he worked until he retired in 1986. He wrote several books and research papers. He died on November 30, 2011 at the age of 93.


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