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African Americans in Technology and Computing

February is Black History Month, so we decided to highlight some African American people who have been major figures in technology and computing. We’ve included links where you can read more about the lives of these amazing people.

  1. Granville Woods (1856-1910): He was the first African American to be a mechanical and electric engineer. He held more than 60 patents. Among his inventions were a telegraph that sent messages between train stations and moving trains and an invention that allowed for voice and telegraph to be sent over one wire.
  2. Garrett Morgan (1877-1963): He held patents for many successful inventions. Among his inventions were straightening hair cream, an improved machine, the precursor to the yellow light on a traffic signal, the friction drive clutch, and a breathing device that was the precursor to World War I gas masks. He gained quite a bit of notoriety when he saved people from a fire and suffered from racism in people boycotting his inventions thereafter.
  3. Katherine Johnson (1918-2020): She was a research mathematician. She was one of the first African American women to work as a NASA scientist. While a NASA scientist, she performed calculations for orbital mechanics that enabled America’s first space flight. If this story seems familiar to you, that is because she was the inspiration for the main character of Hidden Figures. She also co-authored 26 scientific papers and received an astronaut’s award.
  4. Otis F. Boykin (1920-1982): He patented 27 electronic devices. Among his inventions are the electronic control devices for guided missiles, IBM computers, the control unit for the pacemaker, the wire precision resistor for radios and TVs, a burglar-proof cash register, and the electrical capacitor.
  5. Roy L. Clay, Sr. (1929-): He worked on writing one of the first computer codes. He led the team to bring HP’s first computer to market and wrote software for this computer. He established HP’s software development team and then managed HP’s computer division. Now he is the CEO of Rod-L Electronics, a company that he started. He invented the first electronic equipment safety testing device to be certified by the Underwriters Laboratory. He was inducted into the Silicon Valley Engineering Council’s Hall of Fame.
  6. Shirley Jackson (1946-): She is a physicist. She is the first African American woman to earn a doctorate at MIT and the second African American woman in the US to earn a doctorate in physics. She was the first African American to be Chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the first African American to be president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where she still works today. She has collaborated on over 100 scientific articles.
  7. Phillip Emeagwali (1954-): He conducts research on next-generation supercomputers. His research on the fastest computer on Earth solved a famous unsolved mathematical problem, for which he won the Gordon Bell Prize in 1989.
  8. Marc Hannah (1956-): He is an electrical engineer and computer graphics designer. He co-founded Silicon Graphics and was the principal scientist for movie special effects. In this role, he developed 3-D graphics technology. This is the technology that was used for Jurassic Park, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and Terminator 2. For this reason, he is sometimes called the founder of special effects.
  9. Mark Dean (1957-): He co-created the IBM personal computer. He was part of the team that developed the technology that allows multiple devices to be connected to PCs. He led a design team to create a one-gigaherz computer chip. He was the first African American to become an IBM fellow and was inducted into the National Inventors’ Hall of Fame.
  10. Kimberly Bryant (1967-): She is an electrical engineer who worked in biotechnology. She founded Black Girls Code. The goal of this foundation is to teach computer programming to black girls aged 7-17. So far, they have been able to reach over 3,000 girls.

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