Men have long dominated STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields. However, black women have made significant contributions as well.
Despite sometime facing discrimination and prejudice, these brilliant women thrive in their careers and inspire the next generation of black girls to pursue STEM. Here are some of the best black women in STEM.
1. Dr. Mae Jemison
Dr. Mae Jemison is a popular figure in the world of STEM. In 1987, Dr. Jemison was selected to join NASA’s astronaut program, becoming the first African-American woman to be accepted into the program.
Afterward, she made history as the first African-American woman to travel in space. She was a mission specialist on the Space Shuttle Endeavour.
Dr. Mae founded the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence, which promotes science, literacy and achievement among young people.
2. Dr. Aprille Ericsson
Dr. Aprille Ericsson-Jackson is an accomplished aerospace engineer who has made major contributions to space exploration.
Dr. Aprille is particularly recognized for her work in developing the thermal analysis system for the Cassini spacecraft. The spacecraft was launched in 1997 and successfully completed its mission to study Saturn and its moons.
Dr. Ericsson has also worked on several other NASA missions, including the Mars Exploration Rovers and the James Webb Space Telescope. In addition to her work in aerospace engineering, she is also a mentor to young people interested in pursuing careers in STEM.
3. Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green
The Ora Lee Smith Cancer Research organization’s Founder, Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green, has made a huge impact on the field of STEM. She is a physicist who developed a cancer treatment using lasers and nanoparticles that selectively target cancer cells.
Dr. Green is the first to cure mouse cancer using the laser and nanoparticles method successfully. She is currently working to bring this treatment to human clinical trials.
She is also known for being among the first African American women to earn a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
4. Dr. Jewel Plummer Cobb
Dr. Jewel Cobb is a biologist who earned her Bachelor’s degree from Talladega College in Alabama and her Master’s degree in Anatomy from the University of Michigan.
She then earned her Ph.D. in Cell Biology from New York University, where she researched the effects of radiation on cells. She became the first black woman to lead a major research at the university.
Jewel Plummer Cobb passed away on January 1, 2017. Her contributions to cell biology continue to inspire and influence scientists today.
5. Dr. Kimberly Bryant
Dr. Kimberly Bryant is a renowned computer scientist and entrepreneur from Nigeria. She is the founder of Black Girls Code, a non-profit organization that teaches girls of color to code and pursue careers in STEM.
She was inspired to start this organization after noticing the need for more diversity in the tech industry. The organization offers workshops and summer camps to teach girls how to code, build websites, and other tech-related skills.
Through her work with Black Girls Code, Bryant has received numerous awards and honors for promoting the inclusion of women of color in the tech industry.
6. Dr. Ashanti Johnson
The STEM trailblazer Dr. Ashanti Johnson is an Oceanography and marine science expert. Her research focuses on understanding the impacts of climate change and human activities on marine ecosystems, particularly on the Arctic and Antarctic regions.
Ashanti Johnson is also the founder and CEO of The Saltwater Classroom, which provides hands-on educational experiences for unrecognized women in marine science and conservation.
In addition to her work with The Saltwater Classroom, Johnson has held various academic positions, including being a postdoctoral researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
7. Joy Buolamwini
The computer scientist and activist Joy Buolamwini is known for her non-profit organization that focuses on identifying and addressing how bias and discrimination can be embedded in AI systems.
Her work has brought attention to issues such as facial recognition software that fails to accurately recognize people with darker skin tones and gender classification algorithms that reinforce harmful stereotypes.
Buolamwini has also worked to increase the representation of women and people of color in tech through her involvement in organizations such as the Black Girls Code and the National Society of Black Engineers.
8. Lisa Gelobter
Lisa Gelobter is a prominent figure in the field of STEM. She has a computer science and technology background and has worked in various industries.
One of Gelobter’s most notable achievements was her work on developing the animation technology used in the early days of the World Wide Web.
During the Obama administration, she also served as the Chief Digital Service Officer for the United States Department of Education. She worked to improve the government’s digital services and increase school technology access.
9. Dr. Danielle N. Lee
Dr. Danielle N. Lee is an accomplished American biologist. Her research interests lie at the intersection of ecology and evolution, with a particular focus on understanding the role of these factors in shaping animal behavior.
Beyond her research, Dr. Lee is a prominent science blogger and outreach specialist, well-known for her ability to communicate complex scientific concepts to broad audiences.
She is committed to promoting science literacy and engagement among women of color and has received several accolades for her work, including being named a National Geographic
10. Dr. Jedidah Isler
Dr. Jedidah Isler is an American astrophysicist and a passionate advocate for diversity in STEM. In 2014, she became the first African-American woman to obtain a Ph.D. in astrophysics from Yale University.
Isler’s research focuses on the physics of blazars, which are hyperactive supermassive black holes. She examines the jet streams from these celestial objects to gain insights into their behavior.
In recognition of her expertise in the field, Dr. Isler was named as part of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration during Joe Biden’s presidential transition Agency Review.
11. Dr. Angela Benton
The breast cancer survivor Dr. Angela Benton is an accomplished entrepreneur who has motivated many young black women in STEM. She holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from Purdue University and a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering from the University of Miami.
She is the founder and CEO of Streamlytics, a data analytics company specializing in the ethical collection and analysis of consumer data.
Benton is also the founder of NewME, a pioneering accelerator that provides mentorship and resources to underrepresented founders in the tech industry.
12. Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson
Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson is a prominent African-American physicist and one of the most eminent scientists in the United States. She was the first black woman to earn a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
She’s best known for her work in theoretical condensed matter physics, especially in semiconductors, quantum dots, and other electronic properties of materials.
Jackson has been a role model for many young people, particularly young women and people of color, interested in pursuing STEM careers.
13. Dr. Kelly Mack
Dr. Kelly Mack is a mathematician who works to increase diversity and inclusion in STEM education and careers. She is currently the Vice President at the Association of American Colleges and Universities. She is also the executive director of Project Kaleidoscope.
With comprehensive expertise and training in cancer research, she focuses on investigating the efficacy of novel anti-tumor agents in breast tumor cells.
As a co-founder of the Society of STEM Women of Color, Dr. Mack has been a valuable asset to the organization.
14. Dr. Patrice Harris
Dr. Patrice Harris is a psychiatrist and the first black woman to serve as president of the American Medical Association. She also advocates for diversity and the need for more representation in medical leadership.
Dr. Harris received her medical degree from West Virginia University School of Medicine. She also holds a Master of Science in Counseling from the University of Pennsylvania.
Harris has also been involved in efforts to address the opioid epidemic and to increase access to mental health care in underserved communities.
15. Dr. Ayanna Howard
The entrepreneur Dr. Ayanna Howard is a roboticist who develops intelligent systems to assist people with disabilities. She is also a prominent advocate for black women in STEM and has written extensively about the importance of creating more inclusive robotics.
Dr. Ayanna is currently the dean of the engineering college at Ohio State University. She assumed the post in 2021, becoming the 1st woman to obtain the position in the university.
She co-founded the non-profit organization Black in Robotics, which aims to increase the representation of Black researchers and professionals in robotics.
16. Kizzmekia Corbett
Kizzmekia Corbett is a viral research African-American at the National Institutes of Health. She has been instrumental in the development of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. She played a key role in the vaccine’s early research and development stages, including identifying the virus’s genetic sequence and designing the vaccine candidate.
Corbett has also extensively researched other viral diseases, such as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.
She has been recognized for her work with numerous awards, including being named to the TIME 100 list of most influential people in 2020.
17. Dr. Jessica O. Matthews
African-American women like Dr. Matthews have become a major inspiration to many young women in STEM. She is best known for inventing the SOCCKET, a soccer ball that generates electricity through play.
She is also the founder of Uncharted Power, a company that creates renewable energy solutions for communities.
Matthews has received numerous awards and recognition for her work, including being named one of Fortune’s 2018 “40 Under 40” and one of Forbes’ “30 Under 30” in 2014.
18. Dr. Carolyn Branch Brooks
After Carolyn Brooks was offered scholarships to 6 different universities, she attended Tuskegee Institute to study microbiology for her degree.
Carolyn Brooks then pursued her Ph.D. at the Ohio State University. Her doctoral research was based on how plasmodium is destroyed by T cells. Brooks also conducted successful research on Agricultural productivity.
She’s well known for discovering the connection between diet and traces of minerals in hair. This discovery enabled the recognition of various medical conditions caused by poor diet.
19. Dr. Patricia S. Cowings
Dr. Patricia S Cowings is an African-American scientist and former astronaut. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from the University of California, Davis, and her Master of Science and Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles.
Cowings joined NASA in 1971 and researched human factors, psychophysiology, and performance in extreme environments.
She developed a training program called Autogenic Feedback Training Exercise, which uses biofeedback to help people control their physiological responses to stress. NASA astronauts used this program, and clinics have also adopted it to treat anxiety disorders.
20. Brittney Exline
Brittney is an accomplished African-American software engineer who made history as the youngest African-American female accepted into an Ivy League school.
She graduated from her high school’s International Baccalaureate program and received a full scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania at 15 years. After graduation, she began working as a software engineer for Chitika.
Exline’s accomplishments inspire young people, especially African-American girls, who may face challenges pursuing their dreams. She has shattered stereotypes with her achievements and dedication to her field.
21. Dr. Njema Frazier
Frazier is a nuclear physicist who currently works at the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration in Washington, D.C. Frazier earned her Bachelor’s degree in physics from Carnegie Mellon University, followed by a Ph.D. in nuclear physics from Michigan State University.
As a nuclear physicist, Frazier’s work involves studying and applying nuclear reactions, radiation, and other related phenomena.
Frazier is also a member of the National Society of Black Engineers, a professional organization that promotes and supports black engineers and other STEM professionals.
22. Yasmin Hurd
Yasmin Hurd is a neuroscientist, and currently the Ward-Coleman Chair of Translational Neuroscience. This is at the Icahn School of Medicine.
Hurd is known for her research on the neurobiology of addiction, particularly concerning opioid addiction. Her work has focused on understanding how drugs like opioids affect the brain and how to develop more effective treatments for addiction.
Hurd has published numerous scientific papers and has received several awards for her work, including the Society for Neuroscience’s Jacob P. Waletzky Memorial Award in 2014.
23. Dr. Lynnae C. Quick
Veteran planetary geophysicist Lynnae C. Quick is the Ocean Worlds Planetary Scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
Quick’s research focuses on the theoretical modeling of cryovolcanic processes on the icy moons and dwarf planets in the Solar System.
She is also a member of the NASA Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) Toolbox for Research and Exploration (TREX) team, which is dedicated to developing tools for planetary exploration.
24. Dr. Gladys West
Gladys West is an American mathematician who contributed significantly to developing the Global Positioning System (GPS). She was among the first African American women hired by the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division.
During her time at the center, West worked on a complex mathematical model to develop algorithms that allowed for more accurate measurements of distances on the Earth’s surface.
West’s contributions to the development of GPS have profoundly impacted the world, with GPS now being used in a wide variety of applications.
25. Dr. Shelia Nash-Stevenson
Shelia Nash-Stevenson is an African-American physicist and engineer, notable for being the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate in physics at Alabama A&M University.
She holds a patent for an optical fiber holder. She has worked at the United States Army Ballistic Missile Defense Systems Command, Nichols Research Corporation, Hughes Aircraft Company, and the Marshall Space Flight Center.
Shelia was awarded a NASA Fellowship in 1998 and eventually joined the spacecraft and vehicle systems group. She was then honored with the Modern Figure Award of NASA.
26. Dr. Fern Hunt
American mathematician Fern Hunt has significantly contributed to applied mathematics and mathematical biology. She earned a B.S. in mathematics from Bryn Mawr College. She also acquired a master’s degree and Ph.D. in mathematics at New York University.
Hunt made her start at the University of Utah and later worked at Howard University. Hunt has received numerous awards and honors throughout her career.
In 2020, she was named an AWM Fellow by the Association for Women in Mathematics for her exceptional commitment to outreach and mentoring other black women.
27. Angella Ferguson
Angella Ferguson is a pediatrician known for her groundbreaking research on sickle cell disease. She earned a BS in chemistry and an MD from Howard University College of Medicine.
When looking closer at infants, she saw a high amount of sickle cell disease in them. She continued to monitor the disease in infants and was one of the first researchers to dedicate her studies to the disease.
She created guidelines for diagnosing sickle cell anemia in children under 12 using a blood test. The blood test she developed remains the standard in most states.
28. Joycelyn Elders
President Bill Clinton appointed American pediatrician and public health administrator Joycelyn as the 15th Surgeon General of the United States. She was the first African American and the second woman to hold this position.
As Surgeon General, Elders advocated for comprehensive sex education to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections. She also supported the legalization of drugs to reduce drug-related crime and health problems.
Her views on these issues led to controversy and criticism from conservatives and some members of the Clinton administration hence her resignation.
29. Dr. Georgia M. Dunston
American geneticist Georgia M Dunston is known for her work on genetic and genomic research related to diseases that disproportionately affect people of African descent.
Dunston worked as a researcher and educator at various institutions, including Howard University and the National Human Genome Center at Howard University. She was also the founding director of the National Human Genome Center at Howard University.
She has also been involved in efforts to increase diversity in the scientific workforce and has advocated for more inclusive practices in genetics research.
30. Dr. Christine Darden
Christine Darden is an American mathematician, data analyst, and aeronautical engineer recognized for her pioneering work at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Darden began her career as a computer programmer at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. She later joined the Aeroelasticity Branch, working on projects such as sonic boom minimization and supersonic wing design.
She faced racial and gender discrimination at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. However, Darden continued to work hard and became one of the agency’s most prominent female African American engineers.
31. Erica Joy Baker
Erica Joy Baker is an African-American senior engineering manager supporting diversity and inclusion in the technology industry. Baker has worked for various tech companies, including Google, Microsoft, Slack, and Patreon.
In 2015, Baker was one of the leaders of a campaign at Google that called for the company to release data on the diversity of its workforce.
The campaign resulted in Google releasing its diversity data for the first time, which sparked similar efforts at other tech companies.
Black Women in STEM, Final Thoughts
The trailblazing black women in STEM are not just shattering glass ceilings; they’re building bridges for the generations of black women that follow in their footsteps.
Their tireless efforts to champion diversity and inclusivity and groundbreaking contributions to their fields are nothing short of inspiring. By shining a light on their remarkable achievements and sharing their stories, they ignite a passion for STEM in many young minds.