Black History Month Profiles: Scientists

Written by: Amber Baldwin

Black History Month is upon us. Here are three black scientists you should know about.

Dr. Alexa Irene Canady (1950-present)

In 1981, Alexa Canady became the first black woman to become a neurosurgeon. She received her medical degree from the University of Michigan. From 1987 to 2001, she was the chief of neurosurgery at a children’s hospital in Michigan. Canady also worked on research and was a professor at Wayne State University. Before retiring, she was a part-time neurosurgeon at the Pensacola Sacred Heart Hospital in Florida from 2001 to 2012. Alexa Canady also received the American Medical Women’s Association President’s Award, the Distinguished Service Award from Wayne State University Medical School, the Candace Award from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women. She was also inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame.

Dr. Gladys Mae West (1930-present)
Gladys West created the model of the Earth that is used as the basis for the Global Positioning System or GPS. She also became the second black woman to work at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division in 1956. While she worked there, she was a programmer and a project manager. Before that, she was a math and science teacher. West received her Bachelor of Science in mathematics and her Master of Mathematics at Virginia State University. She also received another master’s degree in public administration and a Ph.D. in public administration. In 2018 Gladys West was inducted into the United States Air Force Hall of Fame and won Female Alumna of the Year at the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Awards. She also received the Prince Philip Medal from the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering in 2021.

Dr. Walter Lincoln Hawkins (1911-1992)
Walter Lincoln Hawkins was a chemist and engineer who worked at Bell Laboratories, where he was the first black person to be on the technical staff. He received a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, a master’s degree in chemistry, and a doctorate in chemistry. While working at Bell Laboratories, he became the supervisor of applied research and became head of his department. Hawkins also developed the plastic coating for telephone wires, making universal service possible. Because of his studies, he won many awards, including the National Medal of Technology, the International Medal of the Society of Plastics, the Burton C. Belden Award, the Percy L. Julian Award, the International Award of the Society of Plastics Engineers, and the Honor Scroll of the American Institute of Chemists.

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