Celebrating Black History Month with Science

Happy February, everyone! It’s the month of Groundhog Day, Valentine’s Day and Presidents’ Day, but most importantly for this blog post, it’s Black History Month. Here at Sustainable Nano, we’re celebrating with a collection of relevant readings and resources that we think you’ll enjoy.

famous scientists
A handful of famous historical Black American scientists: (L-R) George Washington Carver, Katherine Johnson, Ernest Everett Just, & Mae Jemison   (image sources: Carver, Johnson, Just, Jemison)

According to History.com, Black History Month was not a month but a week when it was founded in 1926, but expanded to a month-long celebration in 1976. February was chosen for a number of reasons, including Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on the 12th and the anniversary of Frederick Douglass‘s death on the 20th (his birthday isn’t known).

The scientists featured in the image above all have nice Wikipedia pages if you’re not already familiar with them. In addition, there’s a plethora of information about botanist/inventor George Washington Carver available in books and online; zoologist Ernest Everett Just has a well-regarded biography; physicist/mathematician Katherine Johnson is one of the people profiled in Hidden Figures (the recent book and movie); and engineer/physician/astronaut Mae Jemison has both a TED talk and a Twitter feed.

Here are just a few more resources to get you started on this topic:

  • If you want hours of fascinating reading, check out The Faces of Science:
    African Americans in the Sciences from the University of California-Irvine, which has over a hundred profiles of scientists (categorized by discipline from biochemists to geneticists to zoologists). The page also includes some recent data and links to more research resources.
  • For a variety of K-12 educational resources, try the Black History Month page from Science NetLinks, which includes videos and hands-on lesson guides categorized by grade level.
  • TheHistoryMakers.com has a huge collection of videos and interviews with a dazzling array of African American scientists.
  • Somewhat more mature audiences may enjoy learning more about chemist Percy Julian in this clip from Comedy Central’s Drunk History (you can also watch the full episode with a Hulu subscription).

Obviously we’re just scratching the surface here, and learning about this history shouldn’t be restricted to the month of February. But Black History Month provides a great reminder to think about some amazing scientists whose contributions aren’t always recognized as they should be.

test tubes
Researchers at the National Cancer Institute  (photo by Rhoda Baer)

Finally, it’s not all about history! For hearing about the work and life of Black scientists working (and tweeting) in the U.S. right now, a few of our favorites are Dr. Raychelle Burks, Dr. Danielle Lee, and of course Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson. Asia Murphy also has compiled a whole Twitter list of scientists of color for you to check out.

Who are some of your favorite scientists to celebrate during Black History Month?


Note: Updated June 28, 2018 to fix broken link.