To celebrate Black History Month, we wanted to highlight 4 of the most influential black people who have contributed to the techology industry with their inventions and discoveries.
Dr Gladys West
Known for: contributions to the invention of the Global Positioning System (GPS)
“I encourage young women to believe in yourself, find your passion… keep setting new goals and continue to strive to reach them, and most of all – follow your dreams.”Dr Gladys West
Born in Sutherland, Virginia, Dr West is an American mathmatician and computer programmer. In 1956 she began working for the U.S. military as the second black woman ever hired! Her first foray into astronomy started in the 1960s with an award-winning study about Pluto’s motion relative to Neptune.
Throught the 1970s and 80s she began programming an IBM 7030 Stretch computer to account for fluxuations in factors that impact the Earth’s shape. Using this information she was able to create a geodetic model of Earth, which served as the foundation for what we know today as the GPS.
Known for: the PC and the first one-gigahertz chip
“A lot of kids growing up today aren’t told that you can be whatever you want to be. There may be obstacles, but there are no limits.”Mark Dean
Inventor and computer engineer, Mark Dean, was the first black person to become an IBM Fellow, which is the company’s highest honour indicating technical excellence. During the course of his employment at IBM, Dean was credited with being a vital contributor to the invention of the Personal Computer (PC). His work directly led to the creation of colour PC monitors.
In addition to this, Dean headed the team that created the first one-gigahertz computer processor chip. He now holds over 20 patents and works as a professor at the University of Tennessee, at which he achieved his first degree for electrical engineering.
Known for: the illusion transmitter
“The best preparation for the rest of your life is, maybe, no preparation at all. Dive right in. Make mistakes. Break a few rules. Wing it.”Valerie Thomas
Valerie Thomas was one of only two women to major in physics at Morgan State University. In 1964, she began working for NASA as a data analyst. During this time she created computer data systems to support satellite operations control centers and oversaw the Landsat program (which aims to capture satellite imagery of Earth).
In the midst of her career, Thomas invented the illusion transmitter, for which she still holds a patent. This technology can transmit 3D images and holograms, and is still used by NASA today!
Known for: the foil electret microphone
“I think I’ve had more failures than successes, but I don’t see the failures as mistakes because I always learned something from those experiences.”James West
James West, of no relation to the aforementioned Dr Gladys West, is the son of Matilda West, one of the ‘Hidden Figures’ from NASA’s Langley Research Center.
While conducting research on devices for human hearing, West invented the foil electret microphone. This principles of this invention are still used in almost all modern hearing aids, phones, baby monitors and other such audio recording devices used today.
Happy Black History Month to everyone! Consider taking this time to find out more about the incredible people behind the technology that we use today.