Profiles of Famous Black Scientists

Profiles of Famous Black Scientists

President Roosevelt and George Washington Carver
President Roosevelt and George Washington Carver. Bettmann / Getty Images

Black scientists, engineers, and inventors have made important contributions to society. These profiles of famous people will help you learn about black scientists, engineers, inventors and their projects.

Key Takeaways: Famous Black Scientists

  • Famous black scientists include Mae Jemison, George Washington Carver, and Charles Drew.
  • Although these scientists often faced discrimination, both men and women made significant contributions to science.
  • Black scientists were innovators, inventors, and pioneers who made astounding discoveries.

Patricia Bath 

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.

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.

Melvin Oatis and Dr. Patricia Bath attend TIME Celebrates FIRSTS on September 12, 2017 in New York City
Melvin Oatis and Dr. Patricia Bath attend TIME Celebrates FIRSTS on September 12, 2017 in New York City. Ben Gabbe / Getty Images

George Washington Carver 

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 the 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.

George Washington Carver in Laboratory
George Washington Carver in Laboratory. Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

Marie Daly

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 

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.

Mae Jemison speaks to students at Woodrow Wilson High School on March 19, 2009 in Washington, DC.
Mae Jemison speaks to students at Woodrow Wilson High School on March 19, 2009 in Washington, DC. Brendan Hoffman / Getty Images

Percy Julian

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.

Samuel Massie Jr.

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

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 the 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

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).

Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson (born August 26, 1918) made major contributions to the United States space program in the field of digital electronic computers. The book and movie Hidden Figures feature the significance of her work.

Katherine Johnson (middle) at the 89th Annual Academy Awards.
Katherine Johnson (middle) at the 89th Annual Academy Awards. FilmMagic / Getty Images

James West

James West (born February 10, 1931) invented the microphone in the 1960s. He holds 47 US patents and over 200 foreign patents for microphones and polymer foil electrets. West's transducers are used in over 90 percent of microphones in use today.

Ernest Everett Just

Ernest Just (1883-1941) was an African-American scientist and teacher. He pioneered research into cell development and fertilization.

Benjamin Banneker

Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806) was a self-educated astronomer and mathematician. He surveyed the land that became the nation's capitol. Banneker exchanged letters with Thomas Jefferson to further the cause of racial equality.