This week on the PhysicsCentral Podcast
is the story of John McNeile Hunter, the founder and long time head of the physicss department at Virginia State College. He was the third African American to receive a PhD in physics. However there have been many more.Edward Bouchet
was the first African American to receive a PhD from a university in the United States. He received his doctorate in 1876 from Yale after studying optics, but had trouble finding a teaching position afterwards because of his race. He took a position teaching physics and chemistry at the Institute of Colored Youth in Pennsylvania for 26 years, then moved around to several different colleges and high schools at the end of his career.Elmer Imes
was the second African American to receive a physics doctorate, and the first to publish research. His work, published in 1920, on molecular infrared spectroscopy provided one of the earliest tests of quantum theory. Despite his scientific achievements, he also had trouble finding employment at a university or college, and spent the next ten years of his life at different industrial labs. In 1930 he became the chair of the physics department at Fisk University.Warren Henry's
celebrated career spanned 70 years. As an graduate student at the University of Chicago he studied under (and played tennis with) with number nobel laureates including Arthur Compton, James Franck, Maria Goepert-Mayer, Robert Mulliken and Wolfgang Pauli. During World War II, he helped develop radar. After the war he worked at the Naval Research Laboratory and explored the magnetic and superconductive properties of materials at temperatures near absolute zero, and ways to use them in aerospace technology. He taught at the Tuskegee Institute, and was chair of the physics department at Morehouse College.Shirley Ann Jackson
is currently the president of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and the second African American woman to receive a PhD in physics. She started her career working at Fermilab, SLAC and CERN before arriving at Bell Laboratories in 1976 to work on condensed matter research. In 1995, President Clinton named her the as the head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the first woman and the first African American as head of the commission.
Before Ronald McNair
was an astronaut, he was researching satellite communications at Hughes Research Laboratory in California. His first flight into space was on board the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1984 to conduct experiments in microgravity. He and the rest of his crew lost their lives seconds after liftoff of his second shuttle flight on board Challenger in 1986. The mission of the flight was to photograph Halley's Comet.Jim Gates
is a world renowned theoretical physicist. He is a pioneer into theories about supersymmetry and string theory. He is a professor at the University of Maryland, but his influence extends to many areas. He is on the president's science advisory board on the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and on the Maryland Board of Education. He has also appeared on many TV shows and in popular films about physics.