As we wrap up African American History Month, we look back at some of the scientists we have talked about this month.
George Washington Carver is the first scientist most students discuss. His work helped struggling farmers find a bit more profit as he both taught about how growing peanuts helped replenish nutrients to the soil and the many ways peanuts could be used. He was born a slave right before slavery ended. As his parents had disappeared, his former masters took him in and he learned to read. He walked to a new town to attend school, adopting the middle name Washington to distinguish himself from the other George Carver in town. He eventually got a college degree, developed 100s of uses for peanuts, and he was consulted by several presidents for his work in agriculture.
Percy Julian was the grandson of enslaved people. He graduated from college as valedictorian in 1920. He taught at several colleges. When he got his doctorate in the chemistry of medicinal plants, he began to work to build synthetic versions of plant steroids. He worked to create cortisone, hydrocortisone, progesterone, and physostigmine. We had fun with marshmallows and toothpicks, building models of chemicals and other things.
Garrett Morgan was an African American inventor, who invented the three-position stop light and a smoke hood, which served as a predecessor to the gas mask. He also developed a hair-straightening solution. He left his childhood home in Kentucky to work in Cincinnati. He developed a traffic signal after having witnessed an automobile accident and used his smoke hood to help save people trapped in a tunnel under Lake Erie. We played Red Light, Green Light as we talked about him.
Walter Lincoln Hawkins worked in plastics. He developed a plastic coating for communication cables. He both designed plastics that could last longer and found methods to recycle these plastics. We created some bioplastic to try our hand at his work.
We also talked about astronaut and doctor Mae Jemison. She was amazed by the Apollo Landings, and wanted to become an astronaut herself. She was saddened to see no one that looked like her on the landing team. However, Lieutenant Uhuru from Star Trek was an African American female in space, even if it was science fiction, and Uhuru inspired her to believe that she too could one day become an astronaut. She got dual degrees in African American Studies and chemical engineering. She became a doctor for the Peace Corps for several years before realizing her dream of becoming an astronaut. After retiring from NASA, she started her own company and non-profit educational company.