7 Black Women in STEM who made history

    In celebration of Black History Month, we focus on these seven extraordinary women in STEM. Acknowledging the often-overlooked contributions of Black women in various fields, especially in medicine, technology, and consumer goods, remains crucial. This article highlights Black women who have not only achieved remarkable success in their respective domains but also elevated the stature of Black women globally. They have each shattered significant barriers, paving the way for future generations of women of color in their fields.

    This spotlight on their achievements is cast against a backdrop where, as of 2021, Black professionals represent just 9% of the STEM workforce, a statistic highlighted by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES).

    Dr. Alexa Irene Canady

    Dr. Alexa Irene Canady-Davis holds the distinction of being the first African American woman to qualify as a neurosurgeon in the United States. Over her 22-year tenure in neurosurgery, she dedicated herself to treating young patients afflicted with severe conditions including life-threatening illnesses, gunshot injuries, head trauma, hydrocephaly, and various brain disorders, primarily treating those who were 10 years old or younger. Dr. Canady has expressed a preference for staying out of the spotlight, adhering to the belief that "if you do good work, the rest doesn't matter."

    "The greatest challenge I faced in becoming a neurosurgeon was believing it was possible”.

    Dr. Ashanti Johnson

    Dr. Ashanti Johnson stands out as a pioneering figure in the field of geochemistry, being the first African American woman to earn a doctoral degree in oceanography. She earned her Ph.D. in Oceanography from Texas A&M University in 1999. Johnson's current research focuses on environmental aquatic radiogeochemistry, particularly in the application of biogeochemical indicators to decipher historical events impacting marine, estuarine, and freshwater ecosystems in the Arctic, as well as coastal areas of Georgia, Florida, and Puerto Rico. Her exceptional work in the field was recognized in 2010 when she received the prestigious Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering.

    "Successful people often diversify. They have two or more Plan A's."

    Dr. Marie Maynard Daly

    Dr. Marie Maynard Daly, a trailblazing biochemist, achieved a significant milestone as the first African American woman in the United States to receive a Ph.D. in chemistry. Her extensive contributions to the field of biochemistry spanned four key research areas: exploring the chemistry of histones, studying protein synthesis, examining the link between cholesterol and hypertension, and researching creatine absorption in muscle cells.

    “You become courageous by doing courageous acts... Courage is a habit.”

    Mary W. Jackson 

    Mary Jackson shattered the barriers of segregation and gender bias to emerge as NASA's first black female engineer in 1958, marking a significant milestone in her career. Beginning her journey in the West Area Computing unit with other talented Black female mathematicians, her work played a crucial role in NASA's missions, later celebrated in the 2016 film 'Hidden Figures'. After earning her engineering degree, she continued to excel as an engineer at NASA until 1979, becoming a leader in advocating for equal opportunities within the agency.

    “We have to do something like this to get them interested in science. Sometimes they are not aware of the number of black scientists and don't even know of the career opportunities until it is too late."

    Dr. Patricia Cowings

    Dr. Patricia Cowings, a distinguished aerospace psychophysiologist at NASA, holds the notable distinction of being the first African American woman to undergo scientist-astronaut training. She gained recognition for her creation and patenting of the autogenic-feedback training exercise (AFTE), a groundbreaking method designed to counteract motion sickness in space. This technique enables individuals to regulate up to 24 physiological functions, such as breathing, heart rate, skin conductivity, perspiration, muscle response, and blood pressure, helping them to manage motion sickness and enhance their performance in stressful conditions.

    “Doesn't matter where you are from or what you look like. Doesn't matter if you're poor. A human being can learn and can achieve whatever they set out to do (or come near to it). I've spent my life studying human potential—and stretching my own. Don't give up. No matter how bad or scary it gets. Not even when you ask yourself "What am I doing here?"

    Dr. Shirley Jackson

    Dr. Shirley Jackson became the first African American woman to obtain a Ph.D. in nuclear physics from MIT.

    Her groundbreaking experiments laid the foundation for various telecommunication innovations, including the invention of fiber-optic cables that are crucial to today's global communication systems. Her contributions to theoretical physics also led to the development of several key technologies, such as the touch-tone telephone, portable fax, caller ID, and call waiting.

    “There's a unique role that scientists and engineers can play in making a difference in people's lives.”

    Valerie Thomas

    Valerie Thomas, renowned for inventing the first-ever illusion transmitter, revolutionized image transmission technology. She secured a patent for this device, which replicates images at remote locations through the use of parabolic mirrors. NASA later implemented her technology, which has also found applications in surgical procedures and the production of television and video screens. During her tenure at NASA, she played a pivotal role in managing their image processing systems and was instrumental in the development of "Landsat," the first satellite to transmit images from space.

    “As I look back on the things that I have done, I think my biggest legacy is the positive impact that I’ve had on people."

    We hope that the stories of these seven trailblazing Black women in STEM have inspired and ignited a spark within you, reminding you that you are the architect of your own dreams and career path. Let these remarkable journeys empower you to forge your own trail. Come meet and inspire yourself fellow women in tech at the Women in Tech Global Conference.

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