Throughout history, the contributions of Black women in science have often been overlooked and underappreciated. Despite facing significant obstacles and systemic barriers, Black female scientists have made groundbreaking discoveries and advancements in their respective fields.
From chemists to physicists, to biologists, these remarkable women have not only pushed the boundaries of science but also paved the way for future generations. In this article, we will highlight some of the best Black female scientists whose significant contributions have changed the face of science forever.
Birth Year: 1956
Birth Place: Decatur, Alabama
Notable Work: Research on weightlessness and motion sickness
Mae Jemison is an American engineer, physician, and former astronaut. She was the first Black woman to travel to space aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1992. Jemison was born on October 17, 1956, in Decatur, Alabama.
During her space mission in 1992, she conducted experiments in life and material sciences and was involved in research on weightlessness and motion sickness. After leaving NASA, Jemison founded a technology consulting firm and established the Jemison Group, a foundation that encourages young people to pursue careers in science and technology.
Jewel Plummer Cobb
Birth Year: 1924
Birth Place: Chicago, Illinois
Notable Work: Contributions to the field of cancer research
Jewel Plummer Cobb was an American biologist and educator who made significant contributions to the field of cancer research and science education. She was born on January 17, 1924, in Chicago, Illinois, and died on January 1, 2017.
Cobb earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from Talladega College and her PhD in cell physiology from New York University. She went on to work as a research scientist at the University of Illinois, where she studied the effects of radiation on human cells, an incredibly important work that’s still important today.
Shirley Ann Jackson
Birth Year: 1946
Birth Place: Washington, D.C.
Notable Work: Groundbreaking research in condensed matter physic
Shirley Ann Jackson is a physicist who was the first African American woman to earn a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She has conducted groundbreaking research in condensed matter physics and has served in numerous leadership roles in academia, industry, and government.
Jackson was also the first woman and first African American to earn a doctorate from MIT and the second to earn a doctorate in physics in the entire United States.
Marie Maynard Daly
Birth Year: 1921
Birth Place: Queens, New York
Notable Work: Conducted research on the metabolism of sugars
Marie Maynard Daly was a biochemist who was the first African American woman to earn a PhD in chemistry in the United States. She researched the metabolism of sugars and proteins, and her work helped to elucidate the biochemical pathways involved in heart attacks and other cardiovascular diseases.
Birth Year: 1942
Birth Place: New York City
Notable Work: Invented a new device and technique for cataract surgery
Patricia Bath was an ophthalmologist who was the first African American woman to complete a residency in ophthalmology and the first to receive a medical patent. She invented a new device and technique for cataract surgery that improved the accuracy and effectiveness of the procedure.
Bath was also a strong advocate for health equity and worked to address disparities in healthcare for underserved populations.
Alma Levant Hayden
Birth Year: 1927
Birth Place: Greenville, South Carolina
Notable Work: Exposing the composition of Krebiozen
Alma Levant Hayden was an African-American chemist who graduated with honors from South Carolina State College and earned a master’s degree in chemistry from Howard University. She joined the National Institutes of Health in the 1950s before moving to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) back around the mid-1950s, where she became the Chief of the Spectrophotometer Research Branch. She was in the Division of Pharmaceutical Chemistry by 1963.
Birth Year: 1919
Birth Place: Canton, Massachusetts
Notable Work: Co-developed the Mueller–Hinton agar
Jane Hinton was a second-generation scientist, as her father William Augustus Hinton was a bacteriologist and pathologist with a specialty in treating and testing for syphilis.
Following in his footsteps, Hinton worked as a technician for her father’s laboratory and at Harvard’s Department of Bacteriology and Immunology.
During her time at Harvard, Hinton actively developed the Mueller–Hinton agar with John Howard Mueller. This culture medium could isolate the bacteria that led to gonorrhea and meningococcal meningitis. The disk diffusion test uses the Mueller–Hinton agar to identify bacteria that could be resistant to antibiotics.
Between 1942 and 1945, worked in Arizona as a lab technician. Hinton subsequently attended the University of Pennsylvania to become a veterinarian. She and Alfreda Johnson Webb would become the first two Black women to earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine.
In later life, she worked as a vet in her hometown and later became a federal inspector for the government. Her main area of responsibility was researching outbreaks of disease among livestock.
Birth Year: Unknown
Birth Place: St. Louis, Missouri
Notable Work: Revolutionizing cancer treatment
Hadiyah-Nicole Green is a physicist and cancer researcher who developed a novel treatment for cancer that uses lasers and nanoparticles to target and destroy cancer cells. She is also the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Green’s groundbreaking work has the potential to revolutionize cancer treatment and has earned her numerous awards and accolades.
Birth Year: 1933
Birth Place: Schaal, Arkansas
Notable Work: Pioneer developments in the field of pediatric endocrinology
Dr. Joycelyn Elders is a physician who served as the first African American woman Surgeon General of the United States. She was a vocal advocate for public health and education, particularly in the areas of sexual health and drug policy. Elders was also a pioneer in the field of pediatric endocrinology and has received numerous awards and honors for her contributions to medicine and public service.
Birth Year: 1963
Birth Place: Brooklyn, New York
Notable Work: Important work on several space missions
Aprille Ericsson-Jackson is an aerospace engineer who has worked for NASA for over 30 years. She was the first African American woman to receive a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Howard University, and she has worked on several important space missions, including the Mars Exploration Rover and the James Webb Space Telescope.
Birth Year: 1970
Birth Place: Syracuse, New York
Notable Work: The first African American woman to work on a space station for an extended period of time
Jeanette Epps is an astronaut who has been selected by NASA to join the crew of the International Space Station. She will be the first African American woman to live and work on a space station for an extended period of time. Epps has a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering and has worked for NASA as a research scientist and astronaut since 2009.
Birth Year: 1986
Birth Place: Hurdle Mills, North Carolina
Notable Work: Played a crucial role in the development of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine
Kizzmekia Corbett is an immunologist who played a crucial role in the development of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. She led the team at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that designed the vaccine, which has been highly effective in preventing COVID-19.
Corbett has also conducted important research on the immune response to other viral diseases, including influenza and Ebola.
Bettye Washington Greene
Birth Year: 1935
Birth Place: Fort Worth, Texas
Notable Work: Helped develop the fuel that powered the Saturn rockets
Bettye Washington Greene was an African-American chemist who worked at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the 1960s and 1970s. She was part of a team that helped to develop the fuel that powered the Saturn rockets that carried astronauts to the Moon in the Apollo program.
Lisa Perez Jackson
Birth Year: 1962
Birth Place: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Notable Work: Served as the first African American woman to lead the EPA
Lisa Jackson is an environmental scientist and policy expert who served as the first African American woman to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). She was appointed by President Barack Obama and oversaw several important initiatives related to climate change, environmental justice, and public health.
Mamie Phipps Clark
Birth Year: 1917
Birth Place: Hot Springs, Arkansas
Notable Work: Conducted research into child psychology
Mamie Phipps Clark was a psychologist who conducted groundbreaking research on the effects of racism and segregation on children’s self-perception. Along with her husband, Kenneth Clark, she conducted the famous “doll tests” that demonstrated the negative effects of racial segregation on children’s self-esteem.
Their research played a pivotal role in the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case that struck down school segregation in the United States.
Birth Year: Unknown
Birth Place: Unknown
Notable Work: Contributions to the field of molecular biology
Tuajuanda Jordan is a noted scientist and academic administrator who has made significant contributions to the field of molecular biology and has been a strong advocate for diversity and inclusion in higher education.
She joined the faculty at the Xavier University of Louisiana, where she conducted research on protein expression and purification and worked to increase opportunities for underrepresented minorities in STEM fields.
Birth Year: 1963
Birth Place: Chicago, Illinois
Notable Work: Developed solutions for scientific computing and data analysis
Valerie Taylor is a computer scientist and expert in high-performance computing. She earned her Ph.D. in computer science from the University of California, Berkeley, and went on to become a professor at Texas A&M University. Taylor’s research focuses on developing software and hardware solutions for scientific computing and data analysis.
She is a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery and has received numerous awards for her work, including the IEEE Computer Society’s Sidney Fernbach Award.
Willie Hobbs Moore
Birth Year: 1934
Birth Place: Atlantic City, New Jersey
Notable Work: Pioneered the field of condensed matter physics
Willie Hobbs Moore was an American physicist and the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D. in physics from any institution, which she received from the University of Michigan in 1972. She was a pioneer in the field of condensed matter physics, focusing on the study of semiconductors and the properties of surfaces and interfaces.
Vivian W. Pinn
Birth Year: 1941
Birth Place: Halifax, Virginia
Notable Work: Research on women’s health disparities
Vivian W. Pinn is a physician and researcher who has made significant contributions to the field of women’s health. She earned her M.D. from the University of Virginia and went on to become the first African American woman to head a major division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Pinn’s research focuses on women’s health and health disparities, and she has worked to increase opportunities for women and minorities in science and medicine.
Birth Year: 1954
Birth Place: New York City
Notable Work: Important work in the aerospace industry
Wanda Austin is an aerospace engineer and former CEO of The Aerospace Corporation, a leading research and development organization that supports the U.S. government’s national security programs.
She earned her Ph.D. in systems engineering from the University of Southern California and went on to hold several leadership positions in the aerospace industry, including as president and CEO of The Aerospace Corporation.
Birth Year: 1957
Birth Place: Anchorage, Alaska
Notable Work: Contributions to the fields of tissue engineering and biomaterials
Dr. Gilda Barabino is a biomedical engineer and academic leader who has made significant contributions to the fields of tissue engineering and biomaterials. She is currently the president of Olin College of Engineering, a position she has held since 2020. She was the first African American to be admitted into the chemical engineering program at Rice University.
Before joining Olin College, Dr. Barabino served as dean of the Grove School of Engineering at The City College of New York, where she was the first Black woman to serve as dean of a science or engineering school in the United States.
Roger Arliner Young
Birth Year: 1899
Birth Place: Clifton Forge, Virginia
Notable Work: Contributions to the field of biology
Roger Arliner Young was a pioneering Black female scientist who overcame significant challenges to make important contributions to the field of biology. Born in 1899 in Clifton Forge, Virginia, Young was the youngest of nine children in a family of limited means. She was the first African American woman to receive a PhD in zoology.
Her career was also marked by significant personal struggles, including poverty, health problems, and difficulties with addiction. Despite these challenges, Young remained dedicated to her work and is remembered today as an important trailblazing scientist who made significant contributions to the field of biology.
Margaret S. Collins
Birth Year: 1922
Birth Place: Institute, West Virginia
Notable Work: The study of termites in South America
Margaret S. Collins was a chemist who made significant contributions to the study of termites, particularly in South America. Collins is also remembered as a civil rights advocate who was investigated by the FBI. She died in 1996 while in the Cayman Islands while researching for another project.
Ruth Ella Moore
Birth Year: 1903
Birth Place: Columbus, Ohio
Notable Work: Contributions to the field of bacteriology
Ruth Ella Moore was a pioneering Black female scientist who was the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in Bacteriology. Moore’s research focused on the study of microorganisms, and she made several important contributions to the field of bacteriology, including the development of new techniques for studying bacterial growth.
Birth Year: 1917
Birth Place: Gainesville, Florida
Notable Work: Contributions to the field of polonium research
Carolyn Parker was an African American chemist and researcher who made very important contributions to the field of polonium research and was one of the only African American scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project. She was born in 1917 in Gainesville, Florida.
Joan Murrell Owens
Birth Year: 1933
Birth Place: Miami, Florida
Notable Work: Contributions to the marine biology field
Joan Murrell Owens is an African-American chemist who made significant contributions to the field of marine biology. Born in Florida, she received a variety of degrees, including geology and guidance counseling.
She spent much of her career studying button corals and eventually became an associate professor of geology and geography at Howard University.
Birth Year: 1929
Birth Place: Houston, Texas
Notable Work: The first woman to get a degree in mechanical engineering from Howard University
Yvonne Clark was an African-American engineer and a pioneer for women around the world. She was the first woman to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering; this was at Howard University. She also got a master’s degree in Engineering Management from Vanderbilt University, and served as a faculty member in the College of Engineering and Technology via Tennessee State University.
She received several awards for her contributions, including the Mechanism of the Year Award given by the TSU student Chapter of ASME.
Beebe Steven Lynk
Birth Year: 1872
Birth Place: Mason, Tennessee
Notable Work: Wrote a book called “Advice to Colored Women” in 1896
Beebe Steven Lynk was a professor of medical Latin botany and materia medica at the University of West Tennessee. She was also an author and an active member of the early Black women’s club movement. In addition to her teaching career, Lynk wrote a book called “Advice to Colored Women” in 1896 and was active in the African-American women’s club movement.
Birth Year: 1943
Birth Place: Baltimore, Maryland
Notable Work: Headed the Large Area Crop Inventory Experiment
Valerie L. Thomas is an accomplished American data scientist and inventor. Throughout her career, she held several high-level positions at NASA, including heading the Large Area Crop Inventory Experiment and managing the Space Physics Analysis Network project.
Her most notable achievement was inventing the illusion transmitter, a device that uses concave mirrors to create 3D motion pictures, for which she received a patent in 1980.
Mary Elliott Hill
Birth Year: 1907
Birth Place: South Mills, North Carolina
Notable Work: Research into ultraviolet spectrometry
Mary Elliott Hill was an accomplished chemist, known for her work in both organic and analytical chemistry. She was born on January 5, 1907, in the segregated town of South Mills, North Carolina. She went on to become one of the first African-American women to earn a master’s degree in chemistry, which she obtained from the University of Pennsylvania in 1941.
Along with her husband, Carl McClellan Hill, she conducted impressive and important research on ketene synthesis, which helped support the development of plastics.
Birth Year: 1921
Birth Place: Hampton, Virginia
Notable Work: Calculated the trajectories for important space missions
Mary Jackson was an aerospace engineer, as well as a mathematician, that worked for NASA. She was the first African American female engineer at the agency and helped to calculate the trajectories for several important space missions, including the Apollo 11 moon landing. Jackson was also a strong advocate for diversity in the workplace and helped to mentor many other women and minorities in the field of engineering.
Birth Year: 1918
Birth Place: White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia
Notable Work: Calculating trajectories for NASA missions
Katherine Johnson was a mathematician and space scientist who also worked for NASA. She played a crucial role in the early space program, calculating trajectories for the first American manned space flights and helping to ensure the safe return of the Apollo 13 crew.
Johnson’s groundbreaking work was instrumental in advancing the field of space science and inspiring future generations of scientists and engineers.
Birth Year: 1930
Birth Place: Sutherland, Virginia
Notable Work: One of the programmers of the Global Positioning System
Gladys West is an American mathematician and one of the original programmers of the Global Positioning System (GPS). She was born on October 27, 1930, in Sutherland, Virginia.
West’s work on the project included the development of algorithms to model the Earth’s shape and the analysis of satellite data to determine the precise location of ground-based GPS receivers. Her contributions to the project were instrumental in the development of GPS as we know it today.
Popular Black Female Scientists, Final Thoughts
The achievements of Black female scientists are a testament to their resilience, dedication, and unwavering commitment to their fields of study. Despite facing numerous challenges, these women have persevered and made groundbreaking contributions to science that have shaped our understanding of the world.