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Black History Month 2021: A Recap of Iconic Engineers and Inventors

Black History Month is an important time to honor Black figures and their contributions to science and engineering. The origin of this important event can be traced back to Carter G. Woodson, also known as the Father of Black History Month. His legacy includes the creation of Negro Week, which led into a month-long celebration of achievements of Black Americans.  

As we establish greater diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout our organization, we’re also looking at sharing innovations from a variety of diverse backgrounds throughout the year. A diverse workplace with different perspectives creates better solutions for clients and partners.

While this list only highlights a small number of Black pioneers, we salute all trailblazers who help inspire future generations of innovations: 
 

  • Dr. Wendy A. Okolo is an aerospace engineering researcher in the Intelligent Systems Division at NASA Ames Research Center. Her focus is in the area of systems health monitoring and control systems design with applications to air and space components, vehicles, and systems. 

 

  • Elijah McCoy “The ACTUAL Real McCoy” invented a lubrication device to make railroad operations more efficient. Many tried and failed to copy his design, creating the expression “the Real McCoy.”

 

  • Garrett Augustus Morgan Jr. improved the traffic signal by creating a t-shaped design, adding a third position halting all traffic. This would allow the intersection to clear before a light turned green. Vehicle crashes decreased significantly, and we still use this innovative safety technology in traffic control today.

 

  • Dr. Walt W. Braithwaite helped develop computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM) systems for Boeing, which led the way for airplanes and, eventually, many other products designed entirely through software. Goodbye pen and paper drafting!

 

  • Marie Van Brittan Brown, a nurse and inventor, created the first home security system and first closed-circuit television.

 

  • Lewis H. Latimer worked closely with Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell, in addition to designing his own inventions including an early air conditioning unit.

 

  • Charles Richard Drew was a surgeon and scientist who organized America's first large-scale blood bank and trained the next generation of Black physicians at Howard University.

 

  • Daniel Hale Williams is known for his achievements in surgery and advancing medical care. He was one of the first physicians to perform a successful open-heart surgery and founded the first interracial and black-owned hospital.

 

  • Katherine Johnson was a mathematician who calculated and analyzed the flight paths of many spacecraft during her more than three decades with the U.S. space program. Her work helped send astronauts to the Moon.
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