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Black Chemists & Chemical Engineers

Black Scientists, Engineers and Inventors in Chemistry

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In 1992, Mae Jemison became the first black woman in space.

Mae Jemison is a retired medical doctor and American astronaut. In 1992, she became the first black woman in space. She holds a degree in chemical engineering from Stanford and a degree in medicine from Cornell.

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Black scientists, engineers, and inventors have made important contributions to the science of chemistry. Learn about black chemists and chemical engineers and their projects. The focus is on African American chemists, but black scientists from other countries are included.

Patricia Bath - (USA) In 1988, Patricia Bath invented the Cataract Laser Probe, a device that painlessly removes cataracts. Prior to this invention, cataracts were surgically removed. Patricia Bath founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness.

George Washington Carver - (USA, ca. 1864-1943) George Washington Carver was an agricultural chemist who discovered industrial uses for crop plants such as sweet potatoes, peanuts and soybeans. He developed methods for improving soil. Carver recognized that legumes return nitrates to the soil. His work led to crop rotation. Carver was born a slave in Missouri. He struggled to gain an education, eventually graduating from what was to become Iowa State University. He joined the faculty of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama in 1986. Tuskegee is where he performed his famous experiments.

Marie Daly - (USA, 1921–2003) In 1947, Marie Daly became the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry. The majority of her career was spent as a college professor. In addition to her research, she developed programs to attract and aid minority students in medical and graduate school.

Mae Jemison - (USA, born 1956) Mae Jemison is a retired medical doctor and American astronaut. In 1992, she became the first black woman in space. She holds a degree in chemical engineering from Stanford and a degree in medicine from Cornell. She remains very active in science and technology.

Percy Julian - (USA, 1899-1975) Percy Julian developed the anti-glaucoma drug physostigmine. Dr. Julian was born in Montgomery, Alabama, but educational opportunities for African Americans were limited in the South at that time, so he received his undergraduate degree from DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. His research was conducted at DePauw University. (Science Blog offers a more detailed biography of Dr. Julian)

Samuel Massie Jr. - (USA, died May 9, 2005) In 1966, Massie became the first black professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, making him the first black to teach full-time at any US military academy. Massie received a master's degree in chemistry from Fisk University and a doctorate in organic chemistry from Iowa State University. Massie was a professor of chemistry at the Naval Academy, became the chairman of the department of chemistry and co-founded the Black Studies program.

Garrett Morgan - (USA) Garrett Morgan is responsible for several inventions. Garret Morgan was born in Paris, Kentucky in 1877. His first invention was a hair straightening solution. October 13, 1914 he patented a Breathing Device which was the first gas mask. The patent described a hood attached to a long tube that had an opening for air and a second tube with a valve that allowed air to be exhaled. On November 20, 1923, Morgan patented the first traffic signal in the U.S. He later patented the traffic signal in England and Canada.

Norbert Rillieux - (USA, 1806-1894) Norbert Rillieux invented a revolutionary new process for refining sugar. Rillieux’s most famous invention was a multiple effect evaporator, which harnessed steam energy from boiling sugarcane juice, greatly reducing refining costs. One of Rillieux's patents was initially declined because it was believed he was a slave and therefore not a US citizen (Rillieux was free).

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