Skip to Content
An Epic Adventure Playground Set to Open Fall 2025

It is time to remake and reimagine the landscape surrounding Exploration Place.

BHM2024 Main
News & Events

Black History Month: Celebrating African American Scientists

January 26, 2024

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.

2024 Press Release

2024 Featured Scientists

Agricultural Scientist George Washington Carver

George Washington Carver

George Washington Carver (1864 – 1943) was an agricultural scientist who rose to prominence in the early 20th century. Carver was born into slavery in Missouri and lived in several Kansas communities, graduating from high school in Minneapolis, Kansas. Eventually, he became a professor at the Tuskegee Institute, where he promoted alternative crops to cotton and methods to prevent soil depletion. Carver is probably best known for his work with peanuts, discovering more than 300 uses for them and helping make them a staple of the American diet. Carver became an American celebrity who traveled the country promoting peanuts, sweet potatoes and racial harmony.

Astrophysicist Jedidah Isler

Jedidah Isler

Jedidah Isler is an astrophysicist and an advocate for diversity in STEM. In 2014, she became the first African American woman to earn her PhD in astrophysics at Yale University, focusing her research on black holes. She is a frequent public speaker and now works for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Isler aims to inspire the next generation of STEM leaders to connect their curiosity with careers of relevance and impact.

Astronaut Trainee and Sculptor Ed Dwight

Ed Dwight

Ed Dwight is a Kansas City, Kansas, native who was the first African American selected for the Air Force training program from which NASA selected astronauts. Dwight advanced to the second round of training in the 1960s but controversially was not selected to join NASA.  Dwight earned an aeronautics degree from Arizona State University and rose to the rank of captain in the Air Force when he was selected to be a test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base. He was born in 1933 and grew up passionate about two things: art and airplanes. Young Dwight spent time at local hangar cleaning out airplanes, but during that era of segregation, he wasn’t sure he would ever get a chance to be a pilot himself. After leaving the Air Force, Dwight embarked on a prolific career as a sculptor, including many commissions related to the history of African Americans.

Chemist Alice Ball

Alice Ball

Alice Ball (1892 – 1916) was a chemist who developed a significant treatment for leprosy, a highly stigmatized disease during her lifetime. Ball attended the University of Washington, earning degrees in pharmaceutical chemistry and pharmacy. She then pursued a master’s in chemistry at the University of Hawaii, where she found a way to make chaulmoogra oil injectable. It had previously been used as a topical treatment for leprosy patients with mixed results. This injectable treatment was the only effective treatment for leprosy until the 1940s. Ball wasn’t able to publish her findings before her untimely death, but she was eventually given credit as the creator of the “Ball method.”

2023 Featured Scientists

"Potato King of the World" Junius Groves

Junius Groves

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.


Forensic Chemist Dr. Raychelle Burks

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.

Psychologist and Science Writer Dr. Ken Carter

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.

Atmospheric Scientist June Bacon-Bercey

June Bacon-Bercey

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

NASA Mathematician Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson


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.”

Drone video
Atmospheric Scientist Warren Washington

Warren Washington

(b. 1936)

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.

Drone video
Astronaut, Physician, Engineer Mae Jemison

Mae Jemison

(b. 1956)

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.

Drone Video
Engineer, National Science Foundation Director John Brooks Slaughter

John Brooks Slaughter

(b. 1935)

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.

Drone Video