Posts Tagged ‘African Americans’

Finding African American heroes was always relatively easy for me.

What types of heroes, you may ask?

Great authors and hard-hitting journalists that brought down institutions with pen and smarts?  Doctors or firemen saving lives on the front lines?  Not always.  As a kid, my heroes came to me on a regular schedule, after school and on Saturday mornings on a Zenith television (with an actual cathode ray tube!)

Like most every other kid that I knew in the 80’s (and part of the 90’s), I was glued to the television watching my favorite shows.  Whereas my older sister watched shows like Dance Party USA and listened to Menudo, I found myself lost in, and totally enthralled with, the world of science fiction.  To me, the absolute perfect blend of art and science.

Sure, there are the obvious list of greats including Lando Calrissian (Star Wars).  But everyone knows him.  He’s got an action figure.

What about those little known stars you may have forgotten about?  Let’s travel down a little stretch of memory lane at a time when VHS toploaders were the “hottest technology” and a new cell phone only weighed a few pounds.

5.  Dr. Elvin “El” Lincoln. Misfits of Science.  El is a very tall and socially awkward man, who is able to shrink from 7’4″ to 11″ with a press on the back of his neck.

4.  Winston Zeddmore.  The Ghostbusters.  The only member of the Ghostbusters team that wasn’t a founding member.  Zeddmore provided common sense and comedy relief.

3.  JazzThe Transformers. Self-possessed, calm, and utterly collected, Jazz is head of Special Operations, with his own dedicated roster of agents.

2. J. D. Bennet (aka I.Q.).  Bionic 6.  Super-strength (he is even stronger than the other, superhumanly-strong members of the team) and super-intelligence.

1. Geordi LaForge.  Star Trek: The Next Generation.  LaForge started out aboard the Enterprise as Helmsman, but was shortly promoted to Chief Engineer of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

Justin H. S. Breaux

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Every one of us enjoys playing with water, right?

Is there a “no”? I didn’t think so.

Kids especially are fond of water. They love to splash or sprinkle water on themselves, as well as on others. But elders like to splash water too! During one of the religious festivals called “Holi”, celebrated in northern parts of India, people of all ages throw colored water and colored powder on each other. Celebrated in the beginning of spring, the end of February or early March, the festival is believed to bridge social gaps and bring new relationships. Tradionally, the colored water (blue, red, green, violet, yellow and purple) is prepared by soaking various flowers in the water that would have medicinal effects. Use of giant syringes and squirt guns (Pichkari in Hindi) are used to sprinkle water. In olden days, Pichkaris were made from bamboo.

If it is “Holi” for India, it is Songkran for Thailand. Songkran is the New Year festival of Thai and is celebrated by splashing water and applying white chalk powder on others. In conventional celebration, the water captured after cleansing Buddha images was sprinkled on the elders and family and was meant to bring good fortune. Songkran is the biggest water fight to be enjoyed in April, the hottest time of the year in Thai, thus bringing down the severity of the weather.

Water splashing festivals are celebrated in many other Asian countries under different names. In other countries you will see kids enjoying the water gun based games mainly in water parks.

It must be a lot of fun splashing water on everyone! Ask any kid – they would know what a water gun is. But who invented this amazing water gun that has been an attractive toy for all the ages?  (If you are whispering the name, I can hear you!) It is Lonnie Johnson – a rocket scientist and a nuclear engineer who invented the pressurized water gun called the Super Soaker in 1989.

Lonnie was born in 1949 in Mobile, Alabama and is an African American. He was working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Pasadena, CA when the idea for the Super Soaker struck his mind. The Super Soaker made a revolution in the history of water warfare, beating its battery powered motorized predecessors, which were costly toys in the 1980s that also looked more like real guns. Lonnie’s model was highly dependent on the air pressure and the arm pumping for pressurizing the firing chamber that contained water. It was capable of blasting more water farther and faster than any other guns in the market.

Lonnie wanted to mass produce his water gun. As he had only limited resources, he sought licensing agreements with existing toy companies and had to move through several hurdles.  He then found Larami Corporation to contract with – the president of Larami uttered a suprised “wow” as Lonnie shot the gun across the meeting room. Larami manufactured Lonnie’s prototype and patented his invention as well. The gun was called “Power Drencher” and then renamed as “Super Soaker 50”. The Super Soaker was a top selling toy in America in the 1990s and generated over $200 million sales. In total, $40 million toys were sold. Later models of the Super Soaker have either a single chamber or separate chambers to contain water and pressured air; several other improvements and modifications were brought in for later versions.

At a young age Lonnie and his brothers, due to curiosity in science, used to try experiments at home with household items. Though one of his experiments exploded and burnt part of the kitchen at home, it is this curiosity that led him to invent the Super Soaker.

Lonnie owned about 80 patents with 20 more pending, and he is also an author of several publications in spacecraft systems. Lonnie founded Johnson Research and Development Co., as well as its spin-off companies Excellatron Solid State, Johnson Electro Mechanical Systems and Johnson Real Estate Investments, all operating in Atlanta, GA. He served on the board of directors of Georgia Alliance for Children, an organization that protects the rights of Georgia’s less fortunate children, and on the board of directors of Commonwealth National Bank. He is also a board member of the Hank Aaron Chasing the Dream Foundation. In his hometown of Marietta, GA, Februrary 25, 1994 was declared “Lonnie G. Johnson’s Day” in his honor.

Got a Super Soaker with you? Save it for the upcoming “Holi” and “Songkran” celebrations!

Vijayalakshmi Kalyanaraman

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In every culture throughout the world, we can point to examples where science takes hold and changes the lives of these people forever.  From agriculture to FabLabs, everyone has the ability to contribute to science in new and enlightening ways.

For Black History Month, we are taking this week to talk about African Americans and their contributions to the world of science & technology.

Astrophysicist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson is a prolific writer and science communicator.

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson is an Astrophysicist and science communicator.  He is also the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History and host of NOVA’s ScienceNOW on PBS.

Born in 1958, the son of a sociologist and gerontologist, Dr. Tyson’s passion for physics blossomed early in his life, giving his first lectures at the age of 15.  He also served as the Editor-in-Chief for The Bronx School of Science’s Physics Science Journal.  When applying to college, Dr. Tyson was courted by one of Cornell University’s most notable faculty members Carl Sagan (Tyson decided to go to Harvard).

A prolific writer and science communicator, Dr. Tyson’s research interests include the formation of stars, dwarf galaxies, and the Milky Way’s overall structure.  In the 2000’s, Dr. Tyson was appointed by President Bush to sit on commissions to study the Future of the US Aerospace Industry and The Implementation of the US Space Exploration Policy.

Dr. Tyson has received many honorary degrees, and has written and communicated prolifically about science.  However, he may currently be best known for his television show ScienceNOW on PBS.

Watch Dr. Tyson as he talks about his interest in science:

A few more tidbits about Dr. Tyson:

  • 2000 – voted “Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive” by People Magazine
  • 2001 – Asteroid named: 13123 Tyson, renamed from Asteroid 1994KA by the International Astronomical Union
  • 2001 – The Tech 100, voted by editors of Crain’s Magazine to be among the 100 most influential technology leaders in New York
  • 2004 – 50 Most Important African-Americans in Research Science (read more here)
  • 2007 – Harvard 100: Most Influential Harvard Alumni Magazine, Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • 2007 – The Time 100, voted by the Editors of Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world (read more here).
  • 2008 – Discover Magazine selected him one of the ’50 Best Brains in Science’ (read more here)

Follow Dr. Tyson

Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/neildegrassetyson

Twitter – http://twitter.com/#!/neiltyson

NOVA ScienceNow – http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/sciencenow/

Justin H. S. Breaux

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