Famous Black Chemists

Alica Augusta Ball (1892 – 1916)

Qualifications
Alice Augusta Ball completed two UG degrees (pharmaceutical chem and pharmacy), at the University of Washington.She was then the first woman and the first African American to be awarded a Chemistry M.S. degree, which she did in 1915 from the University of Hawaii.

Research/Work
She worked on isolating the active ingredient from an oil then commonly used to treat leprosy patients. She created an injectable version of this oil, which became the most reliable method of treating leprosy until the 1940s.

Other Notes
Alice’s stellar career was cut short by her untimely death by chlorine poisoning in 1916, only a year after she finished her PhD and before she could publish her work. Arthur L. Dean published her findings as his own; the record was set straight in 1922 by a co-worker of Alice’s.


Alma Levant Hayden (1927 – 1967) 

Qualifications
Alma Levant Hayden did her undergraduate degree at South Carolina State College, and later got a masters from Howard University. She worked at the National Institutes of Health (Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases) and later at the US Food and Drugs Administration.

Research/Work
She worked on chemical analysis of samples and products employing spectrophotometry and chromatography. She is most known for carrying out the experiments that debunked Krebiozen, a product that was essentially creatine but was being sold as an expensive cancer treatment.

Other Notes
She was appointed Chief of the Spectrophotometer Research Branch of the FDA Division of Pharmaceutical Chemistry in 1963. She believed in excellence, and once advised girls to ‘always try to do the very best, and to be the very best, in whatever group you are working with’.


Bettye Washington Greene (1935 – 1995) 

Qualifications
Bettye Washington Greene was awarded a BSc in chemistry from the Tuskegee Institute in 1955, and a PhD in phys chem from Wayne State University in 1962. A successful industrial research chemist, she was the first African American woman employed by Dow Chem Company.

Research/Work
Her work focused on colloid and latex chemistry, and the interactions between latex and paper. She held a number of patents relating to the preparation of improved latex-based adhesives. She became senior research specialist at Dow in 1975, from where she retired in 1990.

Other Notes
Bettye W. Greene was a charter member of the Midland, Michigan Alumni Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, an organization which works on improving the political, educational, social and economic conditions of Black communities. 


Dorothy J. Phillips (1945 – )

Qualifications
Dorothy J. Philips studied chemistry at Vanderbilt University and got a BA in 1967. She received a PhD in biochem from the University of Cincinnati in 1974. She became an industrial research chemist and is currently the Director-at-Large of the American Chemical Society.

Research/Work
She worked on psycho-pharmaceuticals, circular dichroism and bioseparation. She has held many leadership positions in boards and committees relating to public relations, science & human rights, undergraduate programs, grants&awards, industry connections and more.

Other Notes
Apart from her chemistry research and leadership positions, Dorothy J. Phillips is also interested in chemistry training, having published a book titled ‘An Industrial Perspective toward Analytical Chemical Education.


Emmett Chappelle (1925 – 2019)

Qualifications
Emmett Chappelle got his bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from the University of California in 1950. He then earned an MA in Biology from the University of Washington, after which he became a researcher at Stanford University and many other institutions after that.

Research/Work
He discovered the combination of chemicals responsible for bioluminescence, but also made wider contributions to medicine, food science, astrochemistry and philanthropy. While working for NASA (1963), he developed chemical analysis technology based on light emitted from samples.

Other Notes
In 2007, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for his bioluminescence work which was crucial for current understanding of bacteria, cyanobacteria, and other single-celled organisms. He also mentored minority students through high school and college. 


George Washington Carver (1860’s – 1943)

Qualifications
The son of enslaved parents, George Washington Carver was denied the education he passionately sought for many years. He ultimately achieved a bachelors in agriculture from Iowa State University and, in 1896, earned a masters in science from the same university.

Research/Work
He was an agricultural scientist focusing on soil chemistry, particularly soil nitrogen content to improve crops. He promoted systematic crop rotation to farmers. He also founded an industrial research laboratory to develop and popularize new crops to allow for a varied diet.

Other Notes
George W. Carver developed 300+ food items using new crops, particularly peanuts. He was an expert witness at Congress representing peanut farmers in 1921. He was the head of the Agriculture Department at the Tuskegee Institute and taught there for 47 years.


Lloyd Noel Ferguson (1918 – 2011)

Qualifications
Lloyd Noel Ferguson was awarded both his UG degree and his PhD from the University of California, completed in 1940. He was the first Black person to be awarded a PhD in Chemistry at this institution. He is the author of several scientific articles and books.

Research/Work
His research focused on organic chemistry and chemoreceptors, looking at the chemical nature of taste, carcinogenic agents, and more generally at the relationship between molecular structure and biological activity. He was also a dedicated educator. 

Other Notes
As a child, he developed moth repellent, silver polish and lemonade powder in his backyard lab. He is a cofounder of NOBCChe; the organization now offers a young scientist award in his name to reflect his passionate advocacy for increased Black representation in Chemistry.


Mae Carol Jemison (1956 – )

Qualifications
Mae Carol Jemison graduated from Stanford University with degrees in both chemical engineering and African American studies, after which she received a medical degree from Cornell University. She has 10 honorary doctorates in science, engineering, humanities and letters.

Research/Work
After completing her degree from Cornell University, working with the Peace Corps and opening her own private practice, she joined the astronaut program at NASA and later became the first Black woman in space, which she is most known for. She is now a successful entrepreneur.

Other Notes
She played Lieutenant Palmer on an episode of Star Trek, created an international space camp for 12-16 year olds, taught at several institutions, wrote children’s books and founded the 100 Year Starship foundation, which aims to achieve human interstellar spaceflight by 2112. 


Marie Maynard Daly (1921 – 2003)

Qualifications
Marie M. Daly studied Chemistry at Queens College, from which she graduated with a BSc in 1942. She was then awarded scholarships for both her masters at New York University and PhD at Columbia University. She was the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in Chemistry.

Research/Work
She did extensive work on varied topics, from the chemistry of histones and proteins to the relationship between cholesterol and hypertension. She worked at the Rockefeller Institute and the America Heart Association, and was a professor at several institutions.

Other Notes
An advocate for increased representation of minority students in medical and graduate school, she established a scholarship at Queens College to support minority chem/phys students. A public school in New York was named the ‘Dr. Marie M. Daly Academy of Excellence’ in 2016.


Patricia Era Bath (1942 – 2019)

Qualifications
Patricia Era Bath graduated with a BSc in Chemistry in 1964 from Hunter College in New York City. She was awarded a medical degree in 1968 from Howard University, after which she completed the training to specialize in ophthalmology.

Research/Work
A talented ophthalmologist and eye surgeon, she developed community ophthalmology to provide access to eye care for Black communities who were disproportionately affected by blindness. She also developed & patented the Laserphaco Probe, a laser instrument used in cataract surgery.

Other Notes
Patricia Bath co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness and was the 1st woman to chair the ophthalmology residency training program at Drew and UCLA. She is part of the International Women in Medicine Hall of Fame since 2001.


Percy Lavon Julian (1899 – 1975)

Qualifications
Percy L. Julian was an UG student at DePauw University. He secured a masters and PhD scholarship at Harvard, but was pushed out after his masters by the racist culture prevalent at the institution. He was later awarded a PhD from the University of Vienna in 1931.

Research/Work
He was a pioneer in the chemical synthesis of plant-based medicinal drugs. In 1935, he first synthesized physostigmine, making the drug readily available for glaucoma treatment. He further contributed to the development of anti-cancer and miscarriage prevention drugs

Other Notes
The synthesis of physostigmine is considered by the ACS as ‘one of the top 25 achievements in the history of American chemistry’. Percy L. Julian has 130+ chemical patents to his name and was the first African-American chemist to be part of the National Academy of Sciences.


St Elmo Brady (1884 – 1966)

Qualifications
St Elmo Brady received his BSc degree from Fisk University in 1908. He was offered a masters scholarship at the University of Illinois. He became the first African America to obtain a PhD in Chemistry in the US, which he received from the same university in 1916.

Research/Work
His Chemistry research work was focused on carboxylic acid acidity and how it varies with chemical structure and combined functional groups. The work he is most known for, however, and his legacy, has to do with his teaching and leadership at several institutions in the US.

Other Notes
St Elmo Brady was a prolific educator and was the chair of 2 chemistry departments, first at Howard University and then at Fisk University. He created the first graduate program in Chemistry of the US at Fisk University, and then 3 more such programs at other universities.


Walter Lincoln Hawkins (1911 – 1992)

Qualifications
Walter Lincoln Hawkins graduated with a BSc in chemical engineering from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (New York) in 1932. He went on to be awarded a masters from Howard University in 1934, and a doctorate in Chemistry from McGill University in 1938.

Research/Work
He was a polymer chemist undergoing research on thermal and oxidative stabilization of polymers for telecommunication applications. He is most known for developing a type of durable outdoor plastic that was and still is extensively used in telecommunications cables.

Other Notes
An active mentor for minority students, he became the first chairman of the ACS’s SEED project. He was a board member at several educational institutions. While working at Bell Labs, he helped establish summer programmes and research fellowships for minorities and women.