Scientific Achievements

Miles Gilmore, Contributing Writer

February is Black History month, so the Register Forum decided to take a look at the black people who have contributed to science. Here are just a few.

Ernest Everett Just:

Born on August 14th, 1883, Just studied at Dartmouth College, taught and researched at Howard, and earned his doctorate at University of Chicago. Just pioneered the physiological fields of cell fertilization, cell division, dehydration, ultraviolet carcinogenic cell radiation, and more. Experimental parthenogenesis, one of the areas he studied, allows an egg to be fertilized without a sperm cell. Shawn Watson, a clinical scientist at Boston-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals, said in an email to the Register Forum, “His numerous accomplishments are all the more impressive considering the substantial challenges he faced,” continuing, “during a time where he was unable to hold a faculty appointment at a major American university.” Just had to move to Europe to continue his study, on account of American racial discrimination.

Otis Boykin:

Born on August 29th, 1920, in Dallas, Boykin attended Fisk College in Nashville, Tennessee. He worked as a lab assistant at Majestic Radio and TV Corporation in 1941. In 1947, he had to drop out of the Illinois Institute of Technology, because his family could no longer afford tuition. He invented a special wire precision resistor for televisions and radios that ended up being used in guided missiles by the U.S. military. This resistor allowed a variable amount of electricity to flow through a device. It also paved the way for the creation of the pacemaker, an implantable device that regulates heart rate for those with heart problems.

Bessie Blount Griffin:

Born on November 24th, 1914, in Hickory (now Chesapeake), Virginia, Griffin was an inventor and a physical therapist who created many assistive devices for those with limited mobility. When she was young, she learned to write with both hands as well as her feet and teeth, inspired by her teacher, who attempted to suppress Griffin’s natural left-handedness. Later, she used her skills to help amputee veterans care for themselves. This included mechanical devices as well as physical therapy. She attempted to contribute her advances to the American Veterans’ Association, but was turned down. She was forced to go to France, where they finally accepted her ideas.

Vivien T. Thomas:

Born in 1910, Thomas was forced to leave college in his first year because of his poverty. After this, he went to work for Alfred Blalock as a surgical assistant at Vanderbilt University. They discovered together that the medical condition of shock was caused by blood loss. This discovery helped save millions of lives by enabling doctors to treat patients in shock. He was integral in developing the procedure for treating “blue baby syndrome,” a heart defect in infants. His treatment of blue baby syndrome went largely unnoticed for a while, because he was only an assistant at the time, while Blalock and Dr. Helen Taussig got international acclaim. However, the operation could not have ever been completed without the advice of Thomas, who had performed the operation more than three hundred times on dogs.

This piece also appears in our February print edition.