Free Admission for Kansas Families, May 26 - August 13
Black History Month: Celebrating African American Scientists
January 30, 2023
African American Pioneers in Science
Exploration Place, in collaboration with The Kansas African American Museum, is celebrating Black History Month by honoring the contributions of a different scientist each week with an outdoor display.
Each week we will be projecting an image of an African American pioneer in Science onto the side of our iconic island building, highlighting their contribution to the STEM community. We encourage you to visit the display and use it as a learning opportunity for your family to discuss the impact that each scientist had in their field.
Make it an evening and stay to watch the nightly 7 pm Ring of Fire lighting at the Keeper of the Plains and view the twelve riverfront banners featuring a selection of women in STEM.
2023 Featured Scientists
Junius Groves (1859 – 1925) was farmer and entrepreneur who was born into slavery and became known as the “Potato King of the World” by optimizing potato growth methods in Edwardsville, Kansas. Groves was an Exoduster who came to Kansas at age 19. He purchased 80 acres and began to grow white potatoes. He earned his moniker by reportedly growing more bushels of potatoes per acre than anyone else in the world, eventually owning more than 500 acres. The Union Pacific Railway even built a special spur to his property to accommodate his needs. In the early 1900s, Groves founded Groves Center near Edwardsville and sold tracts of land to African American families. He also build a golf course for African Americans.
Dr. Raychelle Burks
Raychelle Burks is an associate professor of chemistry at American University and award-winning science communicator who has appeared regularly on TV, film, podcasts and in print. Her work focuses on the use of molecular sensors to detect drugs, explosives, chemical weapons and latent prints. Her team aims to create detection methods that are portable, low cost and reliable.
Dr. Ken Carter
Ken Carter is a professor, clinical psychologist and interim dean of Oxford College of Emory University who studies the lifestyle, psychology and neuroscience behind thrill-seeking behavior. He has delivered a TEDx talk on thrill-seekers and is the host of Mind of a Motorhead an NBC Sports web series that examines the personalities of motorsport athletes. Carter’s most recent book is Buzz!: Inside the Minds of Thrill-Seekers, Daredevils, and Adrenaline Junkies (Cambridge University Press). These high sensation-seekers crave intense experiences, despite physical or social risk.
June Bacon-Bercey (1928 -2019) was a native Wichitan and atmospheric scientist who was the first African-American woman to earn a meteorology degree as well as the first to forecast weather on television. She worked for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, served on the Atomic Energy Commission as a senior adviser and was a radar meteorologist for the National Weather Service as a radar meteorologist. Bacon-Bercey was initially hesitant to appear on the air. “I did not want to do weather on television, only because at that time I felt it was still gimmicky for women, and I didn’t want to prostitute my profession by being some kind of clown,” Bacon-Bercey told Robert Henson in his book Weather on the Air: A History of Broadcast Meteorology.
2022 Featured Scientists
For much of her life, Katherine Johnson’s contributions were not widely acknowledged. Her calculations of orbital mechanics were crucial to the success of NASA’s crewed spaceflights. Johnson worked on Project Mercury and Apollo missions as a “human computer.” In 2015, Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and she was portrayed as a lead character in the Hidden Figures book and film. Johnson studied mathematics and French at West Virginia State College and began her career as a teacher. In 1962, astronaut John Glenn famously asked engineers to have Johnson run the numbers by hand for the equations that were programmed into mission computers. “If she says they’re good,” Katherine Johnson remembers the astronaut saying, “then I’m ready to go.”
Warren Washington studied physics at Oregon State University and then earned a master’s degree there in meteorology. He received his doctorate in meteorology from Pennsylvania and then joined the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Washington is an internationally recognized expert in climate research and modeling. He served as chair of the National Science Board from 2002 to 2006.
Mae Jemison became the first Black woman to travel in space aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1992. Jemison studied chemical engineering at Stanford University and then earned a medical degree at Cornell University. She served in the Peace Corps in Liberia and Sierra Leone before joining the NASA corps of astronauts. Since leaving NASA, Jemison formed a nonprofit educational foundation and has written several books for children. She has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the International Space Hall of Fame.
John Brooks Slaughter
This Topeka native studied electrical engineering at Kansas State University and then earned a master’s from the University of California, Los Angeles and a doctorate at the University of California, San Diego. He eventually joined the National Science Foundation as assistant director for astronomics, atmospherics, Earth and ocean sciences. From 1980 to 1982, Slaughter served as director of the National Science Foundation and later the president of Occidental College. Today, he is a professor at the University of Southern California.
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