From the first African American female mathematician to a pioneer in the science of food preservation, Black scientists and inventors have contributed to our nation’s greatest successes for decades. In honor of Black History Month, we’re highlighting the contributions of some successful scientists who have changed our world.
Euphemia Lofton Haynes
Born in 1890, Euphemia Lofton Haynes became the first African American woman to earn her P.h.D in Mathematics. Growing up in Washington D.C., Haynes was the daughter of Dr. William S. Lofton, a prominent Black dentist and financier, and Lavinia Day Lofton, an active Catholic church member. Dr. Haynes worked in Washington public schools as a Mathematics and English teacher for 47 years. During her career she also served as the Chair of the Mathematics Department at Dunbar High School, and Division Head of Mathematics and Business Education for the District of Columbia Teachers College. She was also head of the Washington, D.C.'s Board of Education.
Haynes was integral to changing the education system all throughout Washington, D.C. by establishing the mathematics departments at both Miners Teacher's College and the District of Columbia Teachers College. Haynes is honored for her hard work and dedication in the education field throughout her career through a scholarship fund and an education department chair named in honor of her at The Catholic University.
Herman Branson, born in 1914, was an African American physicist who received his B. S. from Virginia State College in 1936. He also earned a Ph.D. from the University of Cincinnati in 1993. Branson's main interests were mathematical biology and protein structure.
He had many successful breakthroughs throughout his career as a physicist. He co-discovered the alpha helix, an integral equation of biological systems, and authored the electron impact studies on small organic molecules. Branson was a member of the National Research Council where he wrote extensively about physical-chemical studies of sickled anemic red blood cells, work he continued throughout his retirement as well. He died in 1995 after a long and illustrious career.
Mae C. Jemison
Mae C. Jemison is the first African American female astronaut. Born in 1956, Jemison is the youngest daughter of Charlie Jemison, a roofer and carpenter, and Dorothy Jemison, an elementary school teacher. Jemison grew up in Chicago, where she attended Morgan Park High School and soon earned a National Achievement Scholarship to attend Stanford University. Jemison was involved in many extracurricular activities throughout high school and college. She served as head of the Black Student Union in high school and worked at a Cambodian refugee camp in Thailand during college. Jemison even served as a Peace Corps medical officer for Sierra Leone and Liberia, where she also taught and performed medical research after receiving her M.D in 1981.
After returning home from the Peace Corps, Jemison had a change of heart for her career choice. In 1987 she became the first Black woman to be admitted into the NASA astronaut training program where she soon became the first Black female astronaut, earning the title of Science Mission Specialist. This position made her responsible for conducting crew-related scientific experiments on the space shuttle. She finally made it to space on September 12, 1992, with six other astronauts aboard the Endeavour on mission STS47, becoming the first Black woman in space.
“Never limit yourself because of others' limited imagination; never limit others because of your own limited imagination.” -- Mae Jemison
Born in 1894, Lloyd Hall was son of a Baptist minister, and his grandfather was one of the first Black preachers at the church where his father was minister.
Hall attended high school in Aurora, IL and then went on to study at Northwestern University where he received his Masters in 1916, followed by his Doctorate of Science from Virginia State College in 1944. From 1946-1959, Hall served as Technical Director and Assistant Chief Inspector of High Explosives and Research for the United States government in World War I.
Hall worked for many years as Director and Chief of Griffith's Laboratories in Chicago and Chemical Products Corporation in Chicago. After his retirement he became a consultant to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations where he pioneered most of the complex chemicals in food preservation. Hall's research inspired Griffith Laboratories to open a large manufacturing facility devoted to protein hydrolysats. The contributions made by Hall made him one of America's top food chemists.
These are just a few of the amazing Black scientists and inventors throughout history. Their contributions have blazed the way for today's young scientists and left meaningful and everlasting impacts on our culture and society!
What Black scientists and inventors are you remembering this Black History Month?