The STEM industry is responsible for just about everything that we face in our daily lives, and it forever propels us into the future. There are many notable inventors and scientists in the world, and many that everybody can spout off by name. However, there are a lot that some people may not know, namely STEM icons in the African American community. So, in light of the growing need for the Black Lives Matter movement, we’ve decided to share with you a few of those black icons.
The first notable figure is Dorothy Johnson Vaughan, a NASA mathematician who lived from 1910 to 2008. Dorothy was known as a “human computer,” and she played a hand in the launch of satellites and eventually humans into space. She began her work in a segregated department, and eventually became the manager (being its first Black supervisor). Her initial work was to help engineers figure out and understand the effects of gravity and wind on their aircrafts. After ten years she became a part of the Analysis and Computation division. Here, she learned computer programming and played a crucial hand in the program that sent John Glenn’s team of astronauts into space for the first time. Dorothy Vaughan may not be as unknown of a name as others on this list due to the book (and its movie adaptation) Hidden Figures.
George Washington Carver is another name that many people may know, but they also likely have a huge misunderstanding of what his contributions were to science. Carver, an agricultural chemist, is best known for discovering the varying uses of peanuts. While he did not invent peanut butter, he did however use peanuts to develop soap, adhesives, shampoo, face powder, mayonnaise, and metal polish.
The first female African-American astronaut was Mae C. Jemison, and she was extremely well accomplished before her 30th birthday. By this time she had earned a degree in chemical engineering and a degree in African and African-American studies from Stanford University, and a medical degree from Cornell University. Additionally she worked as a general practitioner for the Peace Corps in Liberia and Sierra Leone, then was selected to join NASA’s astronaut training program. She then took an eight day flight aboard the space shuttle Endeavour in 1992.
Lewis Howard Latimer, the son of two escaped slaves, fought for the United States Navy during the Civil War, and while working at a patent law office designed a number of inventions. Among them were improvements on the bathroom in railroad cars and an early version of air conditioning (a very useful invention during extremely hot summers such as the one we’re in now). Lewis also worked with Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell, as well as a number of other big time engineers and inventors. He was Edison’s first draftsman and the draftsman of the patent for Bell’s telephone design. He also created a method to make carbon filaments for Hiram S Maxim’s incandescent lamp.
Dr. Patricia Bath was a medical doctor who specialized in eye care known as ophthalmologist. She discovered that Blacks were twice as likely to suffer from blindness and eight times as likely to suffer blindness as a result of glaucoma. She believed that this was due to a lack of healthcare for the impoverished; because of this she began many outreach programs. She also invented the “Laserphaco Probe” which increased the accuracy and decreased the discomfort of the procedure. Today her invention is used worldwide helping a large number of people regain their sight.