To honour Black History Month we’ve created a series of posts profiling inspiring and influential black people throughout history in the science, technology, engineering and maths industries. This week we’re looking at the achievements of pioneering botanist, George Washington Carver, and NASA’s extraordinary mathematician and physicist, Katherine Johnson. Visit the blog next week for more.
Marie Curie was born 149 years ago today. We think she is one of the most inspiring female scientists as one of the first women to make an outstanding contribution to science. Her work overturned established ideas in physics and chemistry and helped overcome societal barriers for women.
Marie Sklodowska was born in Poland in 1867. In 1891 she went on to study physics and maths at Sorbonne University in Paris. She met Pierre Curie, professor of the School of Physics, who she married in 1895, becoming Marie Curie.
The Curies worked together investigating radioactivity, the process where atoms decay by emitting radiation. With help from other physicists they discovered new elements, polonium (named after her home country, Poland) and radium in 1898. This work was extremely difficult as they were constantly exposed to radioactive elements, which made them feel ill, an effect known as radiation sickness. They received the Nobel Peace Prize in Physics for their work in 1903. Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize.
Unfortunately, Pierre died from being knocked down by a carriage in 1906. Marie Curie took over his professor post and became the first woman to teach at Sorbonne University. She received a second Nobel Peace Prize in 1911 for her work in chemistry where she determined a way to measure radioactivity.
Her research was crucial in development of X-rays. Marie developed small mobile X-rays that were used in World War One to diagnose injuries. She worked with her daughter at the front line to help diagnose injuries.
Marie Curie died due to exposure to radioactivity during her work in 1934. The Marie Curie Hospital was opened in 1930, specialising in radiological treatment of women suffering from cancer. The Marie Curie charity was established in 1948 which now offers care, support and guidance for people with a terminal illness.
To honour Black History Month, we’ve taken a look at some notable black scientists and what they have achieved in their scientific fields.
1. Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806)
The son of a former slave, Benjamin was born in Maryland, USA. In 1753, he produced the first working clock in America, it struck every hour on the hour. Benjamin was also a keen astronomer and worked on calculating lunar and solar eclipses.
2. Ernest Everett Just (1883-1941)
Raised by his mother in South Carolina, USA, Ernest grew up to become an influential biologist. He argued that cells should be studied as a whole under normal conditions, rather than breaking them up and subjecting them to unnatural lab conditions.
3. Percy Lavon Julian (1899-1975)
Percy was born in Alabama and went on to study at Harvard University and the University of Vienna in Austria. Percy was an American chemist who focused on researching the chemical synthesis of medicinal drugs from plants. His work paved the way for the mass production of contraceptive pills and he also worked on large scale synthesis of human hormones, such as testosterone.
4. Charles Richard Drew (1904-1950)
Charles was the first African American to earn a Doctor of Medical Science degree. During World War II, Charles worked on a revolutionary project called Blood for Britain, he created trucks that stored refrigerated blood that could be transported to soldiers in need. He also set up blood donation centers and ensured all blood was tested and handled correctly. Charles’ work led to the American Red Cross Blood Bank and undoubtedly saved thousands of lives.
5. Maggie Aderin-Pocock (1968)
Born to Nigerian parents, Maggie grew up in London with dyslexia and the ambition of becoming an astronaut. Despite discouraging teachers, she went on to earn a BSc in Physics and a doctorate in Mechanical Engineering from Imperial College London. Maggie worked on a project to probe the centre of stars billions of miles away. Maggie is passionate about inspiring young children to pursue careers in science and has presented various BBC science documentaries.
6. Mae Jemison (1956)
Mae was the first African American woman to travel in space. She is a keen advocate of science education with a particularly interest in getting more minority students to go into science. Through her own company, the Jemison Group, Mae runs a science camp for children aged 12-16.