Black scientists have continually demonstrated their exceptional intellect through revolutionary inventions throughout history, despite tremendous restrictions and being denied access to resources that could have driven them even further.
Their stories are anchored in unrelenting tenacity and a steadfast refusal to accept the system’s limits. They challenged social standards to become pioneers in their industries, knocking down boundaries and opening doors for future generations.
Here are 10 important Black scientists you should know in celebration of their uncommon persistence and remarkable achievements.
1. George Washington Carver ( 1864 – 1943)
George Washington Carver, commonly known as the “Father of the Peanut Industry,” was a farmer and inventor. Etta Budd, one of his professors, urged him to apply to Iowa State Agricultural School to study botany. In 1894, Carver became the first African American to acquire a Bachelor of Science degree.
He is credited with inventing over 300 distinct uses for peanuts, including flour, milk, soap, colors, and many others. He also contributed to the development of various agricultural measures to minimize soil depletion.
Carver received numerous honors, including membership in the Royal Society of London, the Roosevelt Medal, the Humanitarian Award, and honorary doctorate degrees.
2. Alice Ball (1892 – 1916)
Alice Augusta Ball was an American chemist who popularized the “Ball Method.” She was the first woman and African-American to receive a master’s degree in science from the College of Hawaii.
She developed the treatment for Hansen’s illness, leprosy, as part of her life’s work. Alice created an injectable chaulmoogra oil extract that became the most successful leprosy treatment at the time.
Despite the fact that the young chemist died at the age of 24, her memory was revived when the Governor of Hawaii named February 29th “Alice Ball Day” in recognition of the young scientist’s achievements several decades later. A plaque in her honor was installed at the University of Hawaii’s chaulmoogra tree.The University of Hawaii also honored her with the Regents Medal of Distinction in 2007.
3. Charles Drew (1904 – 1950)
Charles Richard Drew, known as the “Father of the Blood Bank,” was a surgeon best known for discovering blood plasma. He was also the American Red Cross’s first director.
Drew was inspired to become a doctor after the death of his sister during the Great Influenza outbreak in 1918.
He is well recognized today for his life-saving invention for blood preservation.During WWII, his work on the storage, processing, and shipment of blood plasma saved the lives of countless Britons. In addition, he was the first medical researcher to investigate blood transfusions.
Drew was awarded the Spingarn Medal in 1944 for his pioneering work in blood plasma and research that resulted in blood plasma banks.
4. Percy Lavon Julian (1899 – 1975)
Mr. Percy Lavon Julian was an American chemist and entrepreneur who was a pioneer in the chemical synthesis of pharmaceuticals.
Following his degree, Percy encountered extreme bigotry and was turned down for more than one professorship and private-sector employment he applied for.When all hope seemed lost, he ran across his former mentor, William Blanchard, a chemistry professor at DePauw who gave him a post teaching organic chemistry in 1932.
Julian devised a method for performing a complete synthesis of physostigmine. He was also the brains behind the development of industrial-scale production of human hormones such as progesterone and cortisol. Because of his efforts, medications such as cortisone, steroids, and birth control pills are now widely available to the general public.
Julian won numerous honors for his remarkable discoveries, including the Spingarn Medal, the Phi Beta Kappa Association’s Distinguished Service Award, the Chicagoan of the Year Award, and thirteen honorary degrees.
5. Alexa Canady (1950 – Present)
Alexa Irene Canady is a member of the Michigan Woman’s Hall of Fame and the first African American woman to become a neurosurgeon in the United States.
Canady grew interested in science after attending a summer medical program for minority students following her junior year of college. She applied to medical school not long after and graduated with honors from Michigan College of Medicine in 1975.
She is well recognized for her research to develop neurosurgical procedures, as well as her invention of a programmable antisiphon shunt to treat hydrocephalus, a condition characterized by an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the brain.
Canady earned the President’s Award from the American Medical Women’s Association in 1993, as well as the Distinguished Service Award in 1994.She also has two honorary degrees.
6. Patricia Bath (1942 – 2019)
Patricia Era Bath was an ophthalmologist and laser scientist who advocated for the prevention, treatment, and cure of blindness. She was also the first Black female physician to be granted a patent.
Bath was inspired to dedicate her life to medicine after hearing about Dr. Albert Schweitzer’s work with lepers in the Congo.
In 1981, Bath became well-known for her Laserphaco, a technology and procedure for removing cataracts. The invention helped thousands of people around the world regain their sight and was the only one accessible to perform the surgery.
In 1960, she received a Merit Award from Mademoiselle Magazine, as well as the Edwin Watson Prize for Excellence in Ophthalmology.
7. Neil deGrasse Tyson (1958 – present)
Neil deGrasse Tyson is a well-known astrophysicist and author from the United States. In 1995, he was the youngest director of the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium, at the age of 38.
Tyson’s interest in astronomy began at an early age, when he observed the moon via binoculars from the roof of his apartment building.
His books and television show, ‘Cosmos,’ inspired many people, inspiring them to value science. Through his work with NASA, he argued that Pluto should not be designated the ninth planet of the Earth’s solar system, instead referring to it as “a dwarf planet.”
He was awarded the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal, as well as numerous Emmys for his work as a science communicator on television and for his books.
8. Philip Emeagwali (1954 – Present)
Philip Emeagwale is a Nigerian-born engineer and computer scientist who is frequently listed among the world’s greatest living geniuses.He is often regarded as the “Father of the Internet – Supercomputer.”
He once stated that bees were the idea for his innovation. He wished to make computers mimic the creation and operation of a honeycomb in a beehive.
His most notable creation is the world’s fastest computer, which can conduct 3.1 billion operations per second. He set the quickest computational record in history thanks to his innovation, the connection machine.
In 1989, Philip Emeagwale was awarded the Gordon Bell Prize, the Nobel Prize in computer science. He has also received numerous awards, including Scientist of the Year, Pioneer of the Year, the Distinguished Eagle Achievement Award, and Nigerian Achiever of the Year.
9. Raven Baxter
Rachel Baxter is a molecular biologist, science communicator, and STEM educator who goes by the moniker “Raven the Science Maven.”
Raven developed an interest in science as a child. She realized while in college that youngsters needed more realistic role models to encourage them to seek jobs in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).
This prompted her to launch a website and YouTube channel to provide science education content as well as her own experiences as a woman of color in STEM.She is also a pioneer in science communication and outreach.
In 2020, Baxter was named to Fortune Magazine’s 40 under 40 list, and in 2022, he was named to Forbes’ 30 under 30 list. She was also named a Mastermind in AfroTech’s inaugural Future 50 list.
10. Brielle Ferguson
Brielle Ferguson is a Harvard Medical School Assistant Professor of Genetics and Neurology. She is also a BlackInNeuro co-founder.
Ferguson got captivated with the thalamus throughout her graduate studies because of its relevance in supporting so many essential cognitive processes. She was also interested in how thalamocortical circuit activity could be hijacked to cause other disease illnesses.
Her research has revealed a critical cell in the brain that could lead to a better understanding of psychiatric illnesses such as schizophrenia and autism, as well as new therapies. Ferguson was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 List in 2021 for her game-changing breakthrough.