Celebrating Black Scientists

From the great engineering feats of African Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids, to traffic lights, automatic elevator doors, and gas masks, contributions of Black people to society continue to be of astounding significance. At Pacific Science Center, we are excited to celebrate and amplify black voices not just in February, but throughout the year by highlighting the contributions of Black scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians.

We note in 1986 Congress passed Public Law 99-244 (PDF, 142KB) which designated February 1986 as “National Black History Month”. We use the term “Black” to echo this designation of Black History Month, while also recognizing that there is a wide black diaspora (mass dispersion of peoples from Africa during the Transatlantic Slave Trades, from the 1500s to the 1800s) that took millions of people from Western and Central Africa to different regions throughout the Americas and the Caribbean. We therefore recognize and honor the various Afro-Caribbean roots captured within the term “Black” for Black History Month.

Black Scientists

Who inspires you to be your best?

The teens in our Discovery Corps program told us that, while they look up to people who make big discoveries, real inspiration comes from learning how great people overcome obstacles to achieve their dreams.

We worked with the teens to create Path of Persistence, an exhibit honoring some of the Black and African American scientists whose passion, curiosity and determination led to scientific breakthroughs and inventions that enrich our lives.

This is by no means a complete list. Tag us @PacSci on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram to share the names of Black scientists, innovators, and inventors you think should be recognized!.

Stephon Alexander

Physicist and Musician

Alexander has straddled the worlds of theoretical physics and jazz music for more than two decades. Learning a love for music from his Trinidadian grandmother, he obtained his Bachelors of Science from Haverford College, his Doctorate from Brown, and has been a research physicist at the Imperial College of London and the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center of Stanford University. A specialist in the field of string cosmology, particle physics, and quantum gravity (String Theory and Loop Quantum Gravity), Alexander co-invented the model of inflation called D-Branes and is also an accomplished saxophonist with a critically acclaimed jazz album named Rioux.

Curious About Sound?

Learn more about the physics of sound by experimenting with Bouncing Sound Waves or by making your own Pin Plinker.

Benjamin Banneker

Benjamin Banneker

Writer, Astronomer, and Mathematician

Born to a free African American woman and a former slave, Banneker had no formal education and was largely self-educated in mathematics and astronomy where he accurately forecasted lunar and solar eclipses. He wrote six successful almanacs during 1792 and 1797 that covered astronomical calculation, literature, medical, and tidal information. He also helped survey territory for the construction of the District of Columbia.

Curious About the Moon?

Explore the phases of the Moon in Going Through a Phase.

Patricia Bath

Ophthalmologist and Inventor

Raised in poverty, the gift of a microscope ignited Bath’s passion for science. Graduating high school in just two and a half years, she chose medicine as her field and dedicated her career to improving eye health. She pioneered the concept of “community ophthalmology” to bring volunteer vision services to low-income populations and received four patents on technologies to treat cataracts.

Curious About Eyes?

Dive deeper into how our eyes work together with our brain in Create an Afterimage.

Kizzmekia Corbett

Kizzmekia Corbett

Viral Immunologist

Corbett is a viral immunologist and leads the Coronavirus Vaccines & Immunopathogenesis Team at the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Vaccine Research Center. Her and her team created the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. She has more than 15 years studying dengue virus, respiratory syncytial virus, influenza virus, and coronaviruses. Corbett invests her time in underserved communities as an advocate of STEM education and vaccine awareness.

Curious About Studying Viral Diseases?

Study the spread of a viral pandemic in Don’t Bug Me!.

Marie Maynard Daly

Biochemist

Inspired by her father, who was financially unable to finish his degree, Daly became the first African American woman to earn a PhD in chemistry. Her research significantly contributed to our understanding of heart attacks and lung disease. In addition, her trailblazing research helped advance our understanding of how diet affects cardiovascular health and the circulatory system.

Curious About Lungs?

Make a Model Lung to learn more about how our lungs allow us to breathe.

Mark Dean

Inventor and Computer Engineer

As a kid, Dean often accompanied his father, a dam worker, on inspection rounds, marveling at the engineering. Fascinated by math and problem solving, Dean started at IBM right out of college. He was chief engineer of the team that designed the first IBM PC in the early ‘80s. Dean has been instrumental in many other computing advances, remaining a top visionary in the field.

Curious About Innovation?

Humans have been using math to help them understand the night sky for a long time. Build a tool used by ancient astronomers with Astronomical Navigation.

Aprille Ericsson

Aerospace Engineer

Inspired by the Apollo moon missions as a child, Ericsson dreamed of becoming an astronaut. She earned PhDs in engineering from both Howard University and the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Ericsson is currently the instrument manager for a mission to bring Mars dust back to Earth, an important step in preparing for humans to travel to Mars.

Curious About Space?

Imagine meeting a life-form from another planet in Extraterrestrial Adventure and learn more about the geology that shapes the surface of planets in Rock Cycle.

Bisi Ezerioha

Bisi Ezerioha

Professional Race Car Driver, Entrepreneur, and Engineer

Ezerioha is the CEO and chief engineer of his company, Bisimoto Engineering. At the age of 15, he attended the Anambra State University of Technology to study petrochemical engineering. After a year of studies in West Africa, he graduated with honors in applied and natural science associate degrees and obtained his bachelors in chemical engineering and engineering management from California State University. After a decade of pharmaceutical research and sales, he opened Bisimoto Engineering, focusing on design, manufacturing and sales of high performance parts for motorsports. He has been involved in import drag racing and has built and driven the fastest carbureted front-wheel drive vehicle in the world.

Curious About How to Engineer Your Own Car?

Design a car of your own with Wind Powered Cars.

Sylvester James Gates

Theoretical Physicist

Gates was fascinated by stars and the language of math at a young age. While in high school, his physics teacher showed him how math equations describe natural phenomena. Stimulated by exploring life’s big questions through math, Gates found his life’s work in the field of theoretical physics. He researches supersymmetry and string theory, which try to reconcile the general theory of relativity with quantum mechanics.

Curious About Physics?

Use the Force of physics to move an object without laying so much as a finger on it.

Mae Jemison

Engineer and NASA Astronaut

Mae could have been a dancer, but she always wanted to be an astronaut. Entering college at age 16, she earned degrees in chemistry, Afro-American studies and medicine. But space still called, so Mae applied to NASA. She became the first African American woman in space as crew on the shuttle Endeavour and then formed a company to develop technologies that improve everyday life.

Curious About Innovation?

Design new inventions to solve problems in Design a Solution. Build a Filtration Station and explore different materials and methods for cleaning water.

Lonnie Johnson

Inventor and Engineer

A curious child, Johnson experimented by taking things apart to figure out how they worked. Once, he nearly burned his house down trying to create rocket fuel. Johnson became an engineer working on the stealth bomber program for the Air Force and on nuclear propulsion systems for NASA. But the inventions he is most famous for are the Super Soaker and Nerf toy guns.

Curious About Engineering?

Design a flying contraption with Take Flight. What changes can. you make to your calculations to improve the flight of your vehicle?

Katherine Goble Johnson

Mathematician

Raised in a town where education for most African Americans ended in 8th grade, Johnson’s parents sent her to another district so she could keep learning. She excelled, skipped several grades, and graduated from college at just 18 years old. Working for the space program, Johnson’s complex mathematical calculations were critical in launching the first American into space, the first moon landing, and the start of the shuttle program.

Curious About Space?

Learn more about our lunar neighbor, the moon, with Going Through a Phase and use math to make predictions about moon craters in Crater Creators.

Garrett Morgan

Inventor

A son of formerly enslaved parents and equipped with a 6th grade education, Morgan had a natural talent for fixing things. He gained success as an inventor by tackling a variety of problems such as improving sewing machines, creating the world’s first hair relaxer, and inventing the first 3-position traffic light and a precursor to WWI gas masks.

Curious About Innovation?

Think like a great innovator and try your hand at your very own inventions in Design a Solution.

Charles Henry Turner

Charles Henry Turner

Zoologist and Psychologist

Charles Henry Turner was an American behavioral scientist and early pioneer in the field of insect behavior. He was best known for his studies on insect learning and behavior, including groundbreaking studies on the navigation behaviors of ants and the visual abilities of honeybees. He constructed an elaborate apparatus with various colored disks, boxes, and cornucopias to study how honeybees perceived both color and pattern. He was also well known for his commitment to civil rights and was a leader in St. Louis.

Curious About Entomology?

Learn more which insects pollinate which plants, based on color, shape and smell with Insect Exploration.

Stephanie D. Wilson

Stephanie D. Wilson

NASA Astronaut and Engineer

Stephanie D. Wilson is a veteran of three spaceflights: STS-121 in 2006, STS-120 in 2007, and STS-131 in 2010 and has logged more than 42 days in space. She is a member of the Artemis Team, a select group of astronauts charged with focusing on the development and training efforts for early Artemis missions. She has a Bachelor of Science in Engineering Science from Harvard University, Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering from University of Texas at Austin, and did her graduate research on control and modeling of large, flexible space structures sponsored by NASA Graduate Student Researchers Fellowship.

Curious About the Surface of the Moon?

Learn more about why the surface of the moon has so many craters in Crater Creators.

Rae Wynn-Grant

Rae Wynn-Grant

Wildlife Ecologist

As an ecologist, Wynn-Grant has an expertise in uncovering how human activity influences carnivore behavior and ecology. Working in the central coast of California, she is studying the unique ecology of carnivores in coastal zones as well as the role of protected areas in connectivity of high-quality habitat for large carnivores. She is a research fellow with National Geographic Society focusing on carnivore conservation in partnership with the American Prairie Reserve and a visiting scientist position at the American Museum of Natural History.

Curious About Animals?

Imagine how future environmental changes will affect the lives of animals in Adaptation Artistry.

Recognize Brilliant STEM Minds this 2022 Black History Month

Join us this Black History Month in recognizing brilliant STEM minds and their ongoing contributions and impacts to everyday life.

An Interview with Adriane Brown, PacSci's Board Chair from 2017-2021

Read an interview with Adriane Brown, and hear her experiences in the corporate world as well as thoughts in investing in communities. Read more

An Interview with Jessie Woolley-Wilson

Read an interview with Jessie Woolley-Wilson, and her thoughts on how personalized education can democratize learning opportunities. Read more

PacSci Statement on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access

We believe that curiosity and critical thinking are essential to equity and justice for all. We embrace science as a process of inquiry, discovery, and problem solving that helps us better understand our universe and each other. Science has the power to connect people and to develop solutions for the common good.

We commit to our guests, community, and colleagues that we will:

  • Use curiosity, critical thinking, and innovation to identify, understand, and reduce inequities and barriers to participation in science.
  • Ensure that our facilities, programs, experiences, and the benefits they provide are accessible to people of all backgrounds, and financial, social, physical, and intellectual abilities.
  • Be a community laboratory and living room that is inclusive and welcoming to everyone.
  • Include diverse experiences and perspectives in our work, particularly the voices of people who have previously been excluded.
  • Honor and better reflect the diverse community we serve.
  • Learn from our past, tackle current issues, and create an equitable future.

We prioritize inclusion, diversity, equity and access in order to strengthen our organization and our community. We encourage all members of our community to come together, to celebrate science and each other, and to be curious.

Pacific Science Center is proud to be a member of Washington Employers for Racial Equity, a coalition of Washington businesses that have come together in support of Black Washingtonians, to raise awareness of racial inequity in our state, and to advocate for an equitable future.  

Commitment to Anti-Racism

Pacific Science Center stands with those who are courageously fighting against hate, racism, and injustice. We recognize that not being racist is not sufficient. We must be actively anti-racist, and we commit to doing so. We prioritize inclusion, diversity, equity, and access in everything we do. Curiosity and critical thinking are essential to the dialogue and changes that need to happen. Learn more.

Community and Justice: Urban Conservation and Human-Wildlife Coexistence

In this presentation, Urban Ecologist Dr. Chris Schell discusses the patterns and processes by which wildlife are adapting to cities. Learn how carnivores like coyotes and raccoons have become sentinels of urban environments, helping reframe how we consider our cities as viable greenspaces, and come together as a community around their amazing stories. Their narratives provide another lens on how we can be effective environmental stewards through activism and social justice that dismantles structural racism and classism.

 

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