February is Black History Month, a month dedicated to respecting and acknowledging the Black community’s struggles, sacrifices, culture, and heritage.
It’s important to remember that this month is not the only time to learn about Black history and culture. In fact, many things in our daily lives -- things we see, hear, or use year-round -- come from Black inventors who we may not necessarily learn about in our school textbooks.
So in honor of Black History Month, let’s take a look at three Black inventors.
Dr. Shirley Jackson
Dr. Shirley Jackson’s impact stretches far beyond her inventions and research, as she was also the first for many.
Jackson is the first African American woman to receive a doctorate from MIT, as well as one of the first African American women to receive a doctorate in physics. As an MIT student and graduate, Jackson also advocated for social justice by raising the number of Black students admitted into MIT.
Jackson currently serves as President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, but over the course of her career, she has made tremendous contributions to telecommunications research. Her research in theoretical physics has enabled the creation of many technologies that we take for granted -- the portable fax to electronically transmit documents, the touch-tone telephone, caller ID, call waiting, and others. In 2016, she was awarded the nation's highest honor, the National Medal of Science, by President Obama.
Lewis H. Latimer
Thomas Edison is commonly regarded as the creator of the light bulb, but what many do not know is that after the invention of the lightbulb, Latimer is the one who helped Edison and Alexander Graham Bell make the lightbulb practical to use.
What’s amazing is that Latimer never received formal training in science, yet he created the carbon filament (that glows when heated) in incandescent light bulbs. Latimer also went on to publish books about the science behind incandescent light, as well as highlight how the light bulb is accessible to the lower class and people of color during that time.
In addition to the light bulb, Latimer also helped Bell patent the first telephone by drafting drawings. While we typically associate light bulls and telephones with Edison and Bell, in reality, people like Latimer played crucial roles and paved the way for future Black people in STEM.
After engineer Otis Boykin tragically lost his mother to heart failure, he helped create the pacemaker by inventing the control unit. A pacemaker is a device that can be inserted in the chest to help control our heartbeat. By sensing when the heartbeat is irregular, the control unit determines how many pulses are needed per minute, as these pulses turn into each heartbeat.
Around three million people in the world have pacemakers today. This invention has significantly improved the quality of life for patients who struggle with irregular heart rates. The pacemaker is not Boykin’s only major invention, as his research in resistors (devices that reduce the flow of electricity) led to televisions, military missiles, and IBM computers.
Additionally, he has patented around 26 inventions. Like Latimer, he also worked towards making his inventions and other products more affordable and practical.
Jackson, Latimer, and Boykin are just a few of the amazing Black inventors who have helped shape our lives today.
Sources: Grist.org, MIT, thinkgrowth.org