Thank you for your patience as we work hard to complete the research on the phenomenal Black scientists listed on this page!
Katherine Johnson (1918 – 2020): Mathematician whose calculations of orbital mechanics as a NASA employee were critical to the success of the first and subsequent U.S. crewed spaceflights.
George Washington Carver (1864 - 1943):
Botanist who encouraged farmers to plant alternative crops, such as sweet potatoes and peanuts, instead of cotton. Promoted various farming methods and techniques to prevent soil depletion.
Mae C. Jemison, Ph.D. (born 1956):
Physician, engineer, and NASA astronaut who became the first African American woman to travel in space in 1992.
Percy L. Julian (1899-1975): Chemist who pioneered the chemical synthesis of medicinal drugs such as cortisone, steroids, and birth control pills.
Beth Brown, Ph.D. (1969-2008): NASA astrophysicist with a research focus on X-ray observations of elliptical galaxies and black holes. She was the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of Michigan (1998).
Edward Bouchet (1852-1918): The first African American to earn a Ph.D. in physics (Yale College), and the sixth person of any race to receive a Ph.D. in physics from an American university. Bouchet went on to have a long career educating and inspiring others as a science teacher at a school for Black students.
Alexa I. Canady, Ph.D. (born 1950): The first African American woman in the United States to become a neurosurgeon. Watch an interview with Dr. Canady from the American Association of Neurological Surgeons!
Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806): Mathematician and astronomer who surveyed the territory that would become Washington, D.C. Banneker also owned a tobacco farm, authored several almanacs, and exchanged correspondence with Thomas Jefferson.
Jewel Plummer Cobb (1924-2017): Biology professor and cancer researcher whose research provided a strong foundation for understanding skin cancer and melanin formation and for developing chemotherapy for many types of cancers.
Guion Bluford (born 1942): Aerospace engineer, retired United States Air Force (USAF) officer and fighter pilot, and former NASA astronaut. A veteran of four space flights, Bluford was the first African American to go to space in 1983.
Margaret Collins (1922-1996): Zoologist and entomologist; the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in entomology. She also worked for women's rights and civil rights throughout her career.
William Warrick Cardozo (1905-1962): Pediatrician known for sickle cell anemia research; also published articles about Hodgkin's disease, the gastrointestinal health of children, and the physical development of African American children.
Christine Darden (born 1942): Mathematician, data analyst, and aeronautical engineer who devoted much of her 40-year career in aerodynamics at NASA to researching supersonic flight and sonic booms.
Charles Richard Drew (1904-1950): Physician and surgeon whose pioneering work led to his discovery of a method to preserve blood plasma long-term; organizer of the first large-scale blood bank.
Ruth Ella Moore (1903-1994): First African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in a natural science (bacteriology/microbiology). Her work focused on immunology, dental cavities, the response of gut microorganisms to antibiotics, and the blood types of African-Americans. Additional fun fact: She was also a well-known fashion designer and seamstress!
Lonnie G. Johnson (born 1949): Inventor of one of the most popular toys of all time, the Super Soaker. He was also U.S. Air Force veteran and worked at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, receiving several awards for his work in spacecraft system design.
Ronald E. McNair (1950-1986): Physicist and astronaut who was the second African American in space; he was a mission specialist on the Space Shuttle Challenger (mission STS-41-B) in February 1984. McNair was also serving as a mission specialist on Challenger's mission STS-51-L, which exploded during its launch on January 28, 1986, killing McNair and the other six crew members on board. Fun fact: McNair was an avid reader, and the story of the time he tried to check out books from the segregated library in his hometown is portrayed in this StoryCorps short animation.
Joan Murrell Owens (1933-2011): Marine biologist & geologist who specialized in button corals. Owens discovered a new genus of button coral—the Rhombopsammia— along with three new species, and published a hypothesis for why these deep-sea corals were mobile, unlike the majority of shallow-water corals.
Daniel Hale Williams (1856-1931): Physician/surgeon and entrepreneur who founded Provident Hospital, the first Black-owned hospital in the U.S. Williams also pioneered life-saving techniques and completed the first successful open-heart surgery in 1893.
Dorothy Vaughan (1910-2008): Mathematician and computer programmer whose contributions were crucial to the success of the U.S. Space Program.
Neil deGrasse Tyson (born 1958):
Astrophysicist who popularized science with his books and frequent appearances on radio and television.
Gladys Mae West (born 1930): Mathematician known for her contributions to mathematical modeling of the shape of the Earth. She developed a program capable of calculating satellite orbits; this work laid the foundation for the Global Positioning System (GPS). West was inducted into the United States Air Force Hall of Fame in 2018, and was awarded the Webby Lifetime Achievement Award in 2021 for the development of satellite geodesy models.
Matilda Arabella Evans (1872-1935): First African American woman licensed to practice medicine in South Carolina. She attended Oberlin College from 1887 to 1891 but left before graduating to pursue a career in medicine. She practiced surgery, pediatrics, and obstetrics and gynecology, treating Black and white patients in her home until she established the Taylor Lane Hospital, the first black hospital in the city of Columbia, in 1901. Check out Dr. Matilda A. Evans' papers at the Smithsonian's Online Virtual Archive!
Harold Amos (1918-2003): A World War II veteran, Amos was the first African American doctoral graduate of the Division of Medical Sciences at Harvard Medical School (1952) and the first African American to serve as a Chair of a department at Harvard Medical School. He is known for his research into bacterial metabolism and animal and bacterial virology.
Alice Augusta Ball (1892-1916): A chemist who pioneered a treatment for leprosy, which became known as the "Ball Method." It was the only treatment that worked until the 1940s. She died unexpectedly at the age of 24, shortly after her discovery, and her work was largely unknown until being rediscovered in the 1970s.
Leonidas Berry (1907-1983): A pioneer in gastroscopy and endoscopy, Dr. Berry invented the Eder-Berry biopsy attachment in 1955; this made the gastroscope the first direct-vision suction instrument used for taking tissue samples during gastroscopic examination. Interesting note: Dr. Berry's career began at Chicago's Provident Hospital, which was founded by Daniel Hale Williams, a physician also featured in this guide! Take a moment to explore Dr. Berry's papers at the National Library of Medicine!
Window Snyder (born 1975): Computer engineer, cybersecurity expert, and veteran hacker who codified the threat modeling framework — a structured approach for identifying, evaluating, and mitigating security threats to system and application security — and laid the groundwork for cybersecurity at companies including Microsoft, Apple, and Intel. Her work encouraged them to take cybersecurity seriously and keep the systems and devices that we rely on more secure. Co-author of a book by the same name, which is the industry standard in cybersecurity.
Euphemia Haynes (1890-1980)
Mathematician who was the first African-American Ph.D. in Mathematics. Taught in Washington, DC schools for much of her life, eventually becoming the first woman to chair the DC school board. Worked to abolish segregation in the DC-area education system.
Micropaleontologist and current Director of Education and Outreach at the University of California Museum of Paleontology at UC Berkeley. Principal Investigator of "Reaching Out to Communities and Kids with Science in San Francisco" (Science Rock), a program that strived to increase scientific knowledge in urban students. She holds a Ph.D. in Earth Sciences from UC Santa Cruz.
Vivien Thomas (1910-1985)
Medical scientist and surgeon whose work advanced many techniques in the cardiovascular discipline. Developed a surgical solution to Tetralogy of Fallot, a fatal heart anomaly, but was not credited for his work in its initial 1945 publication. Trained many notable and influential surgeons during his time at Johns Hopkins University. Watch Partners of the Heart, a documentary about his life. Check it out through OBIS.