“Making Something Out of Nothing
Some would call that phrase a
cliché. Not me. I think its a fairly accurate description of who are as African-Americans.
If there is something that I resent about that phrase, its the superficial
way we choose to apply it. We mostly use
it to describe our sense of style – our ability to shine and stand out.
What a shame, since the phrase
itself actually implies something much more substantial. It describes our very
way of life that encompasses much more than clothing styles, and slang.
Everywhere you look, you can see
our mark. Our contributions to the modern world touch just about every aspect
of daily life, often in ways that we take for granted. Here are a few examples:
Ophthalmologist Patricia Era Bath is recognized as the
first African-American female doctor to have a medical invention patented. The
invention in question is the Cataract Laser Probe. Patented when New York
native Dr. Bath was in her mid-40s, the probe uses a fiberoptic laser to
remove cataracts from the eyes. It proved to be a painless and efficient method
for doing so, especially in comparison to what it replaced: the then common
practice of drilling to get rid of cataracts.
Dallas-born Otis Boykin was a research engineer, chemist and entrepreneur who invented an improved
Electrical Resistor. This is used in a variety of electronic devices including
televisions, radios and computers, and helped to reduce the cost of
such products. Guided Missiles could not function without Boykin’s variable resistor. Among his many creations – and probably most importantly – he invented the Pacemaker, which has saved and extended many peoples’ lives. Sadly, and ironically, he died of heart failure himself.
Garrett Morgan was born in Kentucky and moved to Ohio to find work when he was only 14-years-old. He is responsible
for two particular inventions that helped to save lives. In 1914, Morgan
invented a type of gas mask, The Morgan Safety Hood and Smoke Protector. On July 25, 1916 Morgan and a team of
volunteers used this invention to rescue 32 men who were trapped in a tunnel
beneath Lake Erie after an explosion. After this act of heroism, fire
departments around the country lined up to purchase his masks. Of course he is also known as the inventor of the traffic light, which can save lives as long as we pay attention to them! He actually sold the rights to the traffic signal to General Electric for $50,000.00.
Frederick Jones, another Kentucky-born trailblazer, patented more
than 60 inventions in his lifetime – a staggering number by any account. Most of his innovations were in the field of
refrigeration, including a portable air conditioner. Jones invented a refrigeration system for trucks and railroad
cars that kept food fresh during long trips. This refrigeration system changed the
food transportation industry by virtually eliminating food spoilage.
Mark Dean was a computer
scientist and inventor that headed a team that developed the ISA Systems Bus. This
allows peripheral devices such as scanners, printers and modems to be connected
to personal computers. Mark Dean also led a design team that created the first
one gigahertz computer chip.
Lonnie Johnson, an Aerospace
engineer from Los Angeles, achieved the unthinkable by making summertime that much more fun with his brainchild. He
happens to be the inventor of the greatest water gun of all time, the Super
Soaker. Johnson first invented the Super Soaker in 1988 under the name The
Power Drencher. The Super Soaker revolutionized
the squirt gun industry by using air pressure to deliver longer and more
powerful blasts of water. This innovation made the Super Soaker the most
popular toy in the U.S. in 1991 and 1992, and to date has generated over $200 million dollars in sales. In January 2008, Mr. Johnson announced his idea for a heat engine that will turn heat into power.
Valerie Thomas is the inventor
of the Illusion Transmitter, a device that sounds like an early precursor to
virtual reality. It projects three-dimensional images into your living room
instead of having them appear on a flat screen. Ms. Thomas also did extensive work with NASA, both as a data
analyst and as a project manager for NASAs image processing system on Landsat. She retired from NASA in 1995.
What would a rapper be without
his best friend and greatest weaon? Virgina-born James West is an acoustician and research
professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Johns
Hopkins University. He was also a Bell Laboratories Fellow at Lucient
Mr. Wests research in the early
1960’s revolutionized both sound recording and voice communication technology
through the development of Foil Electret Transducers. They are used in most
microphones and telephones manufactured today.
In 1962, he and Gerhard Sessler patented the Foil Electret Microphone.
The modern railroad probably
wouldnt be a physical reality without this Ohio native, who is considered by many to
be the African-American equivalent of Thomas Edison. Throughout his life, Mr. Woods he
patented a number of inventions pertaining to the railroad industry, including the automatic air brake. In 1887,
he developed the Synchronous Multiplex Railway Telegraph. This device helped to
make railway travel considerably safer by allowing moving trains to communicate
with each other between train stations.
Born In Nigeria, Dr. Philip
Emeagwali won the Gordon Bell prize in 1989 for programming the Connection
Machine Supercomputer to compute a world record 3.1 billion calculations per
second using 65,536 processors to simulate oil reservoirs. Dr. Emeagwali has
submitted over 41 inventions to U.S. Patent and Trademark office. He is one of
the most prolific and brilliant minds in the field of Supercomputers.