Get to Know These 10 Pioneers in Science in Celebration of Black History Month
Get to know notable African American pioneers in the field of science that have influenced the world we live in today.
Katherine G. Johnson
Katherine G. Johnson is an American Mathematician who performed complex calculations that let humans achieve successful space flight. She made contributions to the United States space program, including the Apollo 11 flight to the moon and the Apollo 13 lunar flight. She had received many awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The 2016 Oscar nominated film Hidden Figures featured her as one of the main characters. Here she is at the Academy Awards, pictured in the blue dress.
Katherine passed away at the age of 101 years old on the morning of Monday, February 24th, 2020 according to NASA.
"Johnson helped our nation enlarge the frontiers of space even as she made huge strides that also opened doors for women and people of color," NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement. "Her dedication and skill as a mathematician helped put humans on the moon and before that made it possible for our astronauts to take the first steps in space that we now follow on a journey to Mars."
Photo by: Eddy Chen
Lisa Gelobter is a computer scientist, technologist, and chief executive who served as the Chief Digital Service Officer for the United States Department of Education. She is the mastermind behind our beloved animated GIFs. Without Gelobter, the GIF-based cat memes wouldn’t exist. She also developed Shockwave Flash which is used for countless applications.
Photo by: The Washington Post
Mae C. Jemison
Mae C. Jemison is a physician and astronaut. Jemison became the first African-American woman to travel into space as a STS-47 Endeavour mission specialist, where she conducted crew related scientific experiments on the space shuttle. She has received many accolades including several honorary doctorates.
Photo by: Time Life Pictures
Dr. George Washington Carver
George Washington Carver is an American agricultural scientist and inventor--he was the most prominent black scientist of the 20th century. His goal was to improve the quality of life for poor farmers. He developed hundreds of products and inventions that included peanuts, sweet potatoes, and soya beans.
Photo by: Hulton Archive
Ronald McNair was an MIT trained physicist and became the second African American to reach space in February of 1984 as a mission specialist on the Space Shuttle Challenger. He played saxophone for a band during his college years and kept his love for the saxophone during his life. In January of 1986, he was sadly one of seven crew members killed during an explosion 73 seconds after liftoff while on the Challenger. McNair was only 35 years old.
Photo by: NASA
Dr. Percy Lavon Julian
Dr. Percy Lavon Julian was a pioneering chemist specializing in the chemical synthesis of medicinal drugs such as cortisone, steroids, and birth control pills from natural soya products and other plants. He was regarded as one of the most influential chemists in American history. Although not allowed to attend high school, he went on to earn his Ph.D.
Photo by: Bettmann
Gladys West is an African American mathematician known for her contributions to the mathematical modeling of the shape of the Earth and her work on the development of the satellite geodesy models. Her mathematical and programming expertise led to her creation of an unprecedentedly accurate model of the Earth, which was used as the foundation for the creation of the Global Positioning System (GPS). West was inducted into the United States Air Force Hall of Fame in 2018, one of the highest honors bestowed by Air Force Space Command.
Photo by: Adrian Cadiz
Annie Easley was a computer scientist, mathematician and rocket scientist who worked as NASA’s human computer, performing complex mathematical calculations. She worked on Centaur technology at NASA, which is a high-energy rocket technology that uses liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to boost rockets into space.
Photo by: Interim Archives
Mary W. Jackson
Mary W. Jackson is an African American mathematician and aerospace engineer. Jackson was NASA’s first black female engineer and one of the three protagonists in the film, Hidden Figures. She was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2019.
Photo by: Donaldson Collection
Dr. Patricia Bath
Bath was the first African American to complete a residency in ophthalmology and the first African American female doctor to receive a medical patent. She was the inventor of the Laserphaco Probe for cataract treatment in 1986 and pioneered laser surgery to remove cataracts.
Photo by: Jemal Countess