9 Famous Black Scientists Who You Should Know

Black Scientist Mary Jackson Explaining

Black scientists have made many contributions to science, technology, engineering, and math, and they continue to do so every day. However, systemic racism has left many of their achievements and discoveries to be forgotten or miscredited by the U.S. education system. In honor of Black History Month, we’ve created a list of famous Black scientists for you to use as a starting point to showcase their work and their voices … not only in February, but year-round as part of your Montessori science sequence. We’ve also included a couple of research questions and suggestions to get you started.

The achievements of Black scientists have made our lives better in so many ways, and this is just a small sample of people and the work they have done.

George Washington Carver (1860s – 1943)

George Washington Carver Black Scientist

George Washington Carver was born into slavery just before it was outlawed, and eventually became the first Black American to get a Bachelor’s degree in science. He developed the practice of crop rotation, but he is probably best known for his work on peanuts. He created hundreds of uses for peanuts such as flour, soap, shaving cream, insulation, tannic acid, paint, rubber, and many more.

For you to research: 

  • What is crop rotation? Who did George Washington Carver first introduce it to?
  • Why did he become so interested in different uses for peanuts?

Alice Ball (1892 – 1916)

Alice Ball Black Scientist

Alice Augusta Ball created the first effective treatment for leprosy. She found a way to inject the leprosy medicine that was being used, which made it work much better. Her treatment was used for over 30 years.

For you to research:

  • What is leprosy?
  • What was the medicine Alice Ball used? How was it being used before she found a way to inject it?
  • Did she get credit for her work while she was alive?

Lewis Latimer (1848 – 1928)

Lewis Latimer Black Scientist

If you ask who invented the light bulb, many people think of Thomas Edison because he owns the original patent. However, Lewis Latimer had a lot to do with it. He invented the carbon-filament light bulb, which made lightbulbs more useful and affordable to the general population

For you to research:

  • Did Lewis Latimer create anything else?
  • What is a patent?

Charles Drew (1904 – 1950)

Charles Drew Black Scientist

Charles Drew created the first blood banks. His blood banks saved many lives during WWII and are still important in saving lives today.

For you to research:

  • Why did Charles Drew leave his position as director of the American Red Cross Blood Bank?
  • What else did Charles Drew do during his career?

Dorothy Vaughan (1910 – 2008)
Katherine Johnson (1918 – 2020)
Mary Jackson (1921 – 2005)

Black Scientist Dorothy Vaughan
Dorothy Vaughan
Black Scientist Katherine Johnson
Katherine Johnson
Black Scientist Mary Jackson
Mary Jackson

Dorothy Vaughn, Katherine Johnson, and Mary Jackson all worked as “human computers” at NASA (formerly NACA). Their complex flight path calculations played a very important part in sending the first astronauts to the moon. Dorothy was the first Black supervisor at NASA, Mary was the first Black female engineer at NASA, and Katherine was instrumental in numerous space missions during her 30-year career at NASA. NASA could not have done many of the things it’s famous for without these women.

For you to research:

  • Who are some other Black women that made important contributions to the U.S. space program during the same time?
  • How did each of these women (Dorothy, Katherine, and Mary) start their careers? What are some of their individual achievements and contributions to the U.S. space program?
  • What is a “human computer”?

Gladys West (1930 – Present)

Black Scientist Gladys West

Gladys West created a mathematical model of our Earth. Her model is the basis for GPS navigation. Without Gladys, you wouldn’t be able to get directions to the grocery store (or anywhere else!) on your phone.

For you to research:

  • Where did Gladys famously work?
  • What other discoveries was she a part of?

Patricia Bath (1942 – 2019)

Black Scientist Patrica Bath

Patricia Bath invented a special laser to treat an eye disease called cataracts. She was the first Black American ophthalmologist (eye doctor), and the first Black American woman to get a medical patent.

For you to research:

  • What else was Patricia Bath the first Black woman to do? 
  • What other things did she invent or accomplish?

Montessori Science Inspired Extensions

Along with the research questions listed after each person, here are some Montessori science-inspired activities to get started on further follow-up.

  1. Read about a famous Black scientist then draw a portrait of them.
  2. Write a research report on a famous Black scientist from the past or present.
  3. Create a timeline of famous discoveries made by Black scientists.

Montessori Laboratory Members: You can log in, and head over to your Story of the Elements section for some further research question ideas on famous scientists.

You can help your learners of all backgrounds see a future in STEM by introducing them to diverse role models in the sciences. You can also help by donating to organizations like Black Girls Code that are already doing work to uplift underrepresented communities in STEM.

You can read more about Black Girls Code, and donate here. We donated too!

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