February is Black History Month, an important time to recognize the challenges and injustices black people have faced throughout history and into today. It’s also a time to celebrate and honor the many notable changemakers of color, especially those of which we can thank for pioneering the way through influential discoveries in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
From as early as the 1700s, black women and men have made incredible contributions to STEM-related fields. Below, we’ll take a look at 15 standout visionaries (in no particular order) who defied stereotypes, battled adversity, and blazed new trails.
- Benjamin Banneker — Largely self-educated Mathematician and Astronomer, 1731–1806
- George Washington Carver — Agricultural Scientist and inventor; not the inventor of peanut butter as often cited, but an inventor of many products using peanuts, 1864–1943
- Eupehmia Lofton Hayes — Mathematician and Educator; the first African-American woman to gain a PhD in mathematics, 1890–1980
- George Carruthers — Award-winning African-American inventor, physicist, engineer and space scientist; invented the ultraviolet camera/spectrograph for NASA for the Apollo 16 launch, 1939 — present
- Valerie Thomas — Scientist and inventor; invented the Illusion Transmitter, for which she received a patent in 1980, 1943 — present
- Dr. Mae Carol Jemison — Engineer, physician, and former NASA astronaut; First African-American woman in space, 1956 — present
- Neil deGrasse Tyson — Astrophysicist, author, and science communicator; host of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, 1958 — present
- Katherine Johnson — Mathematician and former NASA employee whose orbital mechanics calculations were critical to the success of first U.S. space missions, 1918 — present (she’s 101 years old!)
- Mark Dean — Inventor and computer engineer; helped develop the ISA bus; helped create a one-gigahertz computer processor chip; co-creator of the IBM personal computer released in 1981, 1957 — present
- Annie Easley — Computer scientist, mathematician, and rocket scientist, 1933–2011
- Daniel Hale Williams — General surgeon; performed the first documented, successful pericardium surgery in 1893, 1856–1931
- Patricia Bath — Ophthalmologist, inventor, humanitarian, and academic; early pioneer of laser cataract surgery, 1942–2019
- Lonnie G. Johnson — Inventor and aerospace engineer; twelve-year NASA employee; inventor of the popular Super Soaker, 1949 — present
- Jane C. Wright — Pioneering cancer researcher and surgeon with groundbreaking contributions in chemotherapy; developed technique of using human skin samples rather than lab rats for testing effects of cancer drugs, 1919–2013
- Walter Lincoln Hawkins — Chemist and engineer; a pioneer of polymer chemistry, 1911 -1992
The black community and all of society today would not be what it is today without these leaders’ monumental STEM contributions, and they’ve helped pave the way for the future innovators and creators we strive to inspire every day.
Is there anyone else you can think of who we may have missed? Let us know in the comments or tweet us @Sphero.