Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have a long tradition of producing alumni who are trailblazers in their fields. Without a doubt, the world would be markedly different without the contributions of great minds in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
Valerie Thomas, who retired from NASA in 1995 after a 20-year career, helped launch the longest-running satellite program imaging Earth’s surface. The Morgan State University graduate who studied physics went on to invent an illusion transmitter for which she received a patent in 1980.
George Alcorn is a pioneering physicist and engineer noted for his aerospace and semiconductor inventions. His x-ray imaging spectrometer, patented during his career at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, allowed the detection of radio signatures at a more distant and accurate rate than previously possible and influenced the continued evolution of imaging devices. A graduate of Occidental College with a degree in physics, Alcorn went to earn a master’s degree and Ph.D. from Howard University.
Charles Scales, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business from Alabama A&M University, is best known for being the associate deputy administrator for NASA. Howard University graduate Patricia E. Bath, an ophthalmologist and laser scientist, was an innovative research scientist advocating for blindness prevention, treatment, and cure. She invented a device and technique for cataract surgery known as laserphaco in 1986.
During the 1800s, Andrew Jackson Beard created the Jenny coupler, which automatically locked train cars together when they bumped into each other. Henry Blair, the first Black man to be identified on a U.S. patent application, received patents for a corn planter and a cotton seed planter. Solomon Brown worked with Samuel Morse on the telegraph machine, and Lewis Latimer invented a fiber filament made of carbon, among other inventions.
In 1892, Sarah Boone received a patent for improvements to the ironing board. A patent was awarded to Marjorie Joyner for a permanent hair-wave machine. IPWatchdog.com has taken note of more recent patents applied for and received by HBCUs and reports on its website that: In 2013, Florida A&M University applied for a patent for an “artificial intelligence valet system that can use mobile technology, neural networks, and fuzzy logic to direct a vehicle to its owner…This system could be built into a vehicle or would be made available to the market through a plug and play style device.”
North Carolina A&T State University was issued a patent in 2012 for “a cost-effective system capable of completely removing allergens from peanuts.”
Jackson State University applied for a patent in 2011 to protect “a cost-effective method of producing hydrogen gas through a light-based reactive process between aluminum, sodium hydroxide, acetic acid, and another metal such as iron, copper, or tin.”