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Engineer and Inventor, Granville T. Woods
Granville T. Woods, was born on April 23, 1856 in Columbus, Ohio. When he was only 10 years old, he left his family to make his own way in life. He took on an apprenticeship in a machine shop where he learned all about being a machinist and a blacksmith. After fighting in the Civil War, Woods worked in a variety of positions for the railroad, a steam ship company, and a steal mill. He continued to improve both his skills in electrical and mechanical engineering through his early career and night school.
In 1880, at only 24 years old, Woods opened Woods Electrical Company in Cincinnati, Ohio. During the company’s lifetime, Woods had a myriad of important accomplishments that impact us even today. First, he vastly improved the steam boiler used to drive steam engines. In 1884, he invented the capability to transmit messages via electricity, receiving a patent in 1885. His new technology essentially made the telephone a practical device because it allowed people to hear one another in seconds, as opposed to hours. Woods also invented the first electric trains in 1892, along with a telegraph that allowed him to send messages to the trains no matter where in the country they were.
Physicist Robert E. Shurney
Dr. Robert E. Shurney was a life long student. He was born in Dublin, Georgia in December 29, 1921. Shurney tragically lost his mother very early when he was only 10 years old, and his father sent him to be raised in San Bernardino, California with his grandparents. To help out his grandparents he took a job as an auto mechanic and fell in love with engineering.
It wasn’t until 1962, upon Shurney’s college graduation, that he started the most illustrious part of his career when he joined the Marshall Center at NASA. Shurney contributed to the success of all the Apollo flights, including man's first moon circumnavigation on the Apollo 8 mission in 1969, and man's first moon landing. One of his most significant contributions to NASA was the program he developed to allow astronauts’ bodies function in a weightless environment. Ever the true scientist, he devised ways to combine his medical and engineering knowledge to solve practical problems such as toilets that function in a weightless environment and a way to stabilize food in a zero gravity environment.
Mathematician Shirley Anne Jackson
Shirley Anne Jackson today is the president of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, which is the nation’s oldest technological research university. She grew up in the 60s and 70s when women were encouraged to express themselves and try to work hard towards gender equality. Jackson took that concept quite seriously and she received her Ph.D. in nuclear physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1973, becoming the first African American woman to earn a doctorate at MIT. She was interested in science since she was a young girl, when she developed a fascination for the eating habits of the honeybees.
Before Jackson took on the leadership of the Rensselar Polytechnic Institute, she spent years at Bell Laboratories. As a theoretical physicist she used math to work out concepts that enabled others to invent the portable fax, touch tone telephone, solar cells, fiber optic cables, and the technology behind caller ID and call waiting. It’s difficult to imagine life without all these breakthroughs!
Chemist Marie M. Daly
Marie M. Daly was born on April 16, 1921, in Queens, New York. In 1942, Daly graduated with honors from Queens College, took a job as a lab assistant and landed a fellowship. This allowed her to scrape up valuable experience and save money to pay for her graduate program in chemistry from New York University. In 1944 Daly enrolled for her doctorate at Columbia University’s chemistry program, which at the time was led by Dr. Mary L. Caldwell, a woman who was eager to support women who wanted a scientific career. Daly worked in the lab at Columbia where she studied chemicals help the body to digest food. When she finished her doctorate she made history as the first female African American to receive a Ph.D. in chemistry in the United States in 1947.
In 1948, Daly received a grant from the American Cancer Society to study the inner workings of the human body. Eventually her work led to a seven-year long research project at the Rockefeller Institute of Medicine, where Marie studied how the body creates proteins. In 1955 her work, together with Dr. Quentin B. Deming revealed why heart attacks happen. Their collaboration also led them to discover how diet affects health and why we should avoid high cholesterol levels as they can result in a myriad of health issues.
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