This year, to celebrate Black History Month, Valkyrie pays tribute to a few brilliant Black scientists whose contributions have helped advance and shape humanity through their ground-breaking research and contributions to science. This month, we’re highlighting four influential and inspiring Black scientists that exemplify values aligning with our own.
Patricia Bath (1942 – 2019): Inventor of Laser-Based Cataract Treatment
Patricia E. Bath was an Ophthalmologist and an innovative laser research scientist. During her career, she was a notable advocate for blindness prevention, treatment, and cure. She graduated from Howard University’s medical school and worked as an intern at Harlem Hospital and Columbia University, where she noticed a large discrepancy in the rates of blindness between the majority-Black patients at Harlem and majority-white patients at Columbia. After conducting an epidemiological study in 1976 that found the rate of blindness among the Black population was twice that of whites, Bath created a new discipline recognized worldwide as, “Community Ophthalmology ”. It expanded care to underserved populations and is still taught today. Later in 1983, she was appointed as the first woman chair of ophthalmology in the United States, at Drew-UCLA. Dr. Bath cited her proudest achievement as the invention of a new device and technique for cataract surgery known as laserphaco, a medical device that improves on the use of lasers to remove cataracts and “for ablating and removing cataract lenses”. The device and technique were patented in 1988, making her the first African-American woman to receive a patent for a medical purpose. Her ground-breaking contribution has successfully helped to restore vision to people who have been unable to see for decades.
Homer A. Neal: Leader in Physics & Matter Research Pioneer
Homer A. Neal was an African-American particle physicist and a distinguished professor at the University of Michigan. He was recognized as a notable figure in U.S. science policy. From 1980 to 1986, Neal served as a member of the National Science Board of the ,National Science Foundation, the federal agency responsible for the funding of science research. During his time on the National Science Board, he chaired the committee that produced the Board’s first comprehensive report on undergraduate science education. This helped to shape education for physics undergraduates nationwide. Dr. Neal was also cited for leading teams that took part in the hunt for fundamental particles of matter. He and his team members played key roles in the recent discovery of the Higgs boson, an elementary particle in the Standard Model of particle physics. In 1995, Neal also participated in a scientific collaboration that announced the discovery of the top quark and in 2007/2008 announced the discovery of the Xi_b hyperon particle. Dr. Neal was a renowned educator and a pioneer in the field of particle physics.
Kizzmekia Corbett: Immunologist Behind COVID-19 Vaccine Development
Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett is the scientific lead for the Coronavirus Vaccines & Immunopathogenesis Team at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Vaccine Research Center (VRC). She studied at the University of Maryland and in 2008, she received a B.S. in Biological Sciences, with a secondary major in Sociology. Later in 2014, she went on to obtain her Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel. Corbett has been a critical contributor to the field of science and humanity as a whole, through her research and work on the development of a vaccine for the Moderna Coronavirus. A brilliant immunologist by training, Dr. Corbett continues to use her expertise to propel vaccine development efforts for pandemic preparedness.
Lonnie Johnson: Inventor, Aerospace Engineer, and Entrepreneur
Lonnie George Johnson is an African-American inventor, Aerospace Engineer and Entrepreneur, best known for his work in spacecraft system design and the invention of the popular Super Soaker® water gun. Johnson grew up in Mobile, Alabama and attended Tuskegee University, where he earned his B.S. in mechanical engineering and a master’s degree in nuclear engineering. from there, he went on to work for the U.S. Air Force and the NASA space program. He earned multiple awards from NASA for his spacecraft control systems. In 1989, Johnson formed his own engineering firm and created his most well-known invention, the Super Soaker® water gun. Over the last few decades, its sales have totaled close to one billion dollars and continues to be a household name today. Currently, Lonnie Johnson holds over 100 patents, with over 20 more pending, and is the author of several publications on spacecraft power systems. He also owns two companies, ,Excellatron Solid State and ,Johnson Battery Technologies, Inc. (JBT), that are developing revolutionary energy technology to help shape innovation and propel forward movement in the field of science.
In honor of Black History month, Valkyrie is proud to celebrate the highlighted Black scientists above, whose contributions have brought advancements to the field of science while making a historical impact on society.
- CBS News. “Meet the Black Female Scientist at the Forefront of COVID-19 Vaccine Development.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 9 Jan. 2021, ,www.cbsnews.com/news/covid-19-vaccine-development-kizzmekia-corbett/.
- “Changing the Face of Medicine | Patricia E. Bath.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, 3 June 2015, ,cfmedicine.nlm.nih.gov/physicians/biography_26.html.
- “Homer A. Neal 1942-2018: U-M LSA Physics.” University of Michigan LSA: Physics Department, University of Michigan LSA, 25 May 2018, ,lsa.umich.edu/physics/news-events/all-news/search-news/obituary–homer-neal.html.
- “Homer A. Neal: University of Michigan-2014 APS Vice President.” American Physical Society, American Physical Society: Physics, 2014, ,www.aps.org/about/governance/election/neal.cfm.
- Johnson, Lonnie. “Dr. Lonnie Johnson | Biography.” Lonnie Johnson, 2018, ,https://lonniejohnson.com/biography/.
- “Kizzmekia S. Corbett, Ph.D. / National Institutes of Health.” ASM.org, American Society for Microbiology, 2020, ,https://asm.org/Biographies/Kizzmekia-S-Corbett,-Ph-D.
- “Lonnie G. Johnson: Famous African American Inventors.” Scholastic.com, Scholastic, 2019, ,http://teacher.scholastic.com/activities/bhistory/inventors/johnson.htm.
- “Lonnie Johnson Biography.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 26 Jan. 2021, ,www.biography.com/inventor/lonnie-g-johnson.
- Romero, Laura, et al. “Kizzmekia Corbett, an African American Woman, Is Praised as Key Scientist behind COVID-19 Vaccine.” ABC News, ABC News Network, 13 Dec. 2020, 5:05 AM,,https://abcnews.go.com/Health/kizzmekia-corbett-african-american-woman-praised-key-scientist/story?id=74679965.
- Weintraub, Karen. “Homer A. Neal, Leader in Physics Who Explored Matter, Dies at 75.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 8 June 2018, ,www.nytimes.com/2018/06/08/obituaries/homer-neal-dies-at-75-physicist-worked-on-higgs-boson.html.
- Williams, Scott. Homer A Neal – Physicist of the African Diaspora, 2008, ,www.math.buffalo.edu/mad/physics/neal_homer.html.
- Williams, Shawna. “Patricia Bath, Inventor of Laser-Based Cataract Treatment, Dies.” The Scientist Magazine®, 6 June 2019, ,www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/patricia-bath–inventor-of-laser-based-cataract-treatment–dies-65974.