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Ten Black Scientists that Science Teachers Should Know About

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...And Some Free Classroom Resources for Your Instruction

Helping your students see the possibilities of careers in STEM fields means providing them with diverse role models. Black History Month provides teachers with an opportunity to feature the stories and voices of black scientists, engineers and mathematicians in the context of their science instruction. We have made a list of some of the top Black scientists, engineers, inventors and mathematicians, along with media resources to help you bring their work—and stories—into your classroom.

A great place to start is with the The Secret Life of Scientists & Engineers, an Emmy-nominated web-series from the acclaimed PBS series, NOVA. The diversity collection of this series profiles some of today’s leading scientists—showing students that science engages men and women of all ages and diverse backgrounds.

1. George Washington Carver

1860s – January 5, 1943
Field: Botanist, Inventor and Teacher
Known for: Born into slavery, George Washington Carver became a foremost botanist, inventor and teacher. He invented over 300 uses for the peanut and developed methods to prevent soil depletion. He was made a member British Royal Society of Arts — a rare honor for an American – and advised prominent leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and President Teddy Roosevelt on agriculture and nutrition.
Resource: George Washington Carver | Scientist, Inventor, and Teacher | Video for grades 3-7 

2. Percy Julian

Field: Civil Rights Activist, Medical Professional, Scientist, Chemist, Academic
Known for: Percy Julian was a research chemist and pioneer in the chemical synthesis of medicinal drugs from plants, such as cortisone, steroids and birth control pills. He was inducted into the National Academy of the Sciences, National Inventors Hall of Fame and the American Chemical Society for his lasting work.
Resource: Barriers for Back Scientists | Lesson plans for middle and high school  

3. Mae Carol Jemison

October 17, 1956 --
Field: Engineer, Physician and NASA astronaut
Known for: American engineer, physician and NASA astronaut, Mae Carol Jemison became the first African American woman to travel in space when she went into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour on September 12, 1992.
Resource: The Secret Life of Scientists & Engineers | Mae Jemison | Video for grades 6-12 

4. Katherine Johnson

August 26, 1918 –
Field: Mathematician
Known for: Katherine Johnson is best known for her major contributions to the United States' aeronautics and space programs with the early application of digital electronic computers. Her work was recently recognized and featured in the movie Hidden Figures.
Resource:  Katherine Johnson | NASA Computer | Video for grades 4-12

5. Gladys West

1930 --

Field: Mathematician
Known for: Born and raised in Virginia, Gladys West leveraged her mathematical and programming expertise to invent an accurate model of the Earth which was used as the foundation for the creation of the Global Positioning System (GPS). She was the second black woman ever to be employed by the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division and was inducted into the United States Air Force Hall of Fame—one of the highest honors awarded by the Air Force.

6. Marie M. Daly

Field: Chemist, Researcher and Activist
Known for: Marie Daly was the first African-American woman to receive a Ph.D. in chemistry in the United States. She worked closely with scientist Dr. Quentin B. Deming and their work opened up a new understanding of how foods and diet can affect the health of the heart and the circulatory system.
Resource: Biography Marie Maynard Daly, from the Science History Institute 

7. Edward Bouchet

September 15, 1852 – October 28, 1918
Field: physicist and educator
Known for: The first African-American to earn a Ph.D. from any American university and the sixth person of any race to receive a Ph.D. in physics from an American university. He taught science at the Institute for Colored Youth for 26 years.
Resource: Historical Detective: Edward Alexander Bouchet and the Washington-Du Bois Debate over African-American Education | Lesson plan for high school from the American Institute of Physics 

8. Annie Easley

April 23, 1933 – June 25, 2011
Field: computer scientist, mathematician, and rocket scientist
Known for: Annie Easley worked at NASA as a “human computer,” performing complex mathematical calculations. She evolved with the technology -- becoming an adept computer programmer and helped develop and implement code for numerous projects.
Resource: Biography: Annie Easley, Computer Scientist, from NASA  

9. Walter Lincoln Hawkins

March 21, 1911 – August 20, 1992
Field: polymer chemists, scientist and inventor
Known for: Walter Hawkins is best known for inventing a plastic coating for telephone wires that made universal service possible. He is a recipient of the National Medal of Technology and an inductee of the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Resource: Biography: W. Lincoln Hawkins, from Lemelson-MIT Program  

10. Alexa Canady

November 7, 1950 –
Field: Surgeon, Educator
Known for: The first female African-American neurosurgeon in the United States, Alexa Canady was also the first female African-American to be certified by the American Board of Neurological Surgery. She specialized in pediatric neurosurgery and became the director of neurosurgery at the Children's Hospital. Under her guidance, the department was soon viewed as one of the best in the country.
Resource: Biography: Alexa Canady, from Changing the Face of Medicine 


Rachel Connolly is the Director of STEM Education for WGBH and PBS LearningMedia. After teaching high school physics in NYC, she moved into teacher professional development and educational programming at the American Museum of Natural History. Her work with the Hayden Planetarium sparked a love of data visualization that led to her graduate work at Teachers College Columbia University. Her work focuses on designing media-integrated educational experiences that leverage emerging formats of scientific data for innovative instruction. You can see her on PBS LearningMedia talking about the Solar System, or follow her at @rachelbconnolly.  

Brooke Kinney is the STEM Digital Learning Assistant for WGBH and PBS LearningMedia. A recent graduate from the George Washington University with a Bachelors in Environmental Studies, she moved to Boston to pursue science communication with WGBH.



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