Tag: Science

#SaturdayStamps: Ernest Just

Earnest Everett Just was born on August 14, 1883, in Charleston, South Carolina, to Charles Frazier and Mary Matthews Just. Known as an intelligent and inquisitive student, Just studied at Kimball Hall Academy in New Hampshire before enrolling at Dartmouth College.

It was during his university years that Just discovered an interest in biology after reading a paper on fertilization and egg development. This bright young man earned the highest grades in Greek during his freshman year, and was selected as a Rufus Choate scholar for two years. He graduated as the sole magna cum laude student in 1907, also receiving honors in botany, sociology and history.

Career Success

Just’s first job out of college was as a teacher and researcher at the traditionally all-black Howard University. Later, in 1909, he worked in research at Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts. Just furthered his education by obtaining a Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of Chicago, where he studied experimental embryology and graduated magna cum laude.

Just pioneered many areas on the physiology of development, including fertilization, experimental parthenogenesis, hydration, cell division, dehydration in living cells and ultraviolet carcinogenic radiation effects on cells.

Just also served as editor of three scholarly periodicals and, in 1915, won the NAACP’s first Spingarn Medal for outstanding achievement by a black American. From 1920 to 1931, he was a Julius Rosenwald Fellow in Biology of the National Research Council—a position that provided him the chance to work in Europe when racial discrimination hindered his opportunities in the United States. During this time, Just penned many research papers, including the 1924 publication “General Cytology,” which he co-authored with respected scientists from Princeton University, the University of Chicago, the National Academy of Sciences and the Marine Biological Laboratory.

Held in high esteem within his field, notable black scientist Charles Drew called Just “a biologist of unusual skill and the greatest of our original thinkers in the field.”

Personal Life

Just married high school teacher Ethel Highwarden on June 26, 1912, and together they had three children—Margaret, Highwarden and Maribel—before divorcing in 1939. That same year, Just married Hedwig Schnetzler, a philosophy student he had met in Berlin. In 1940, the German Nazis imprisoned Just in a camp, but, with the help of his wife’s father, he was released. After making their way out of France, the couple gave birth to daughter Elisabeth.

Earnest Just died of pancreatic cancer in Washington, D.C., on October 27, 1941. He is buried at the Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Suitland, Maryland.


#DiscoveryTuesday: The Elevator (Alexander Miles)

Alexander Miles of Duluth, Minnesota patented an electric elevator (U.S. pat# 371,207) on October 11, 1887. His innovation in the mechanism to open and close elevator doors greatly improved elevator safety. Miles is notable for being a black inventor and successful business person in 19th Century America.

Elevator Patent – Automatic Closing Doors

The problem with elevators at that time was that the doors of the elevator and the shaft had to be opened and closed manually. This could be done either by those riding in the elevator, or a dedicated elevator operator. People would forget to close the shaft door. As a result, there were accidents with people falling down the elevator shaft. Miles was concerned when he saw a shaft door left open when he was riding an elevator with his daughter.

Miles improved the method of the opening and closing of elevator doors and the shaft door when an elevator was not on that floor. He created an automatic mechanism that closed access to the shaft by the action of the cage moving.

His design attached a flexible belt to the elevator cage. When it went over drums positioned at the appropriate spots above and below a floor, it automated opening and closing the doors with levers and rollers.

Miles was granted a patent on this mechanism and it is still influential in elevator design today. He was not the only person to get a patent on automated elevator door systems, as John W. Meaker was granted a patent 13 years earlier.

He died in 1918 and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2007.



#DiscoveryTuesday: Home Surveillance Cameras (Marie Van Brittan Brown)

While home security systems today are more advanced than ever, back in 1966 the idea for a home surveillance device seemed almost unthinkable. That was the year famous African-American inventor Marie Van Brittan Brown, and her partner Albert Brown, applied for an invention patent for a closed-circuit television security system – the forerunner to the modern home security system.

Brown’s system had a set of four peep holes and a camera that could slide up and down to look out each one. Anything the camera picked up would appear on a monitor. An additional feature of Brown’s invention was that a person also could unlock a door with a remote control.

A female African American inventor far ahead of her time, Marie Van Brittan Brown created an invention that was the first in a long string of home-security inventions that continue to flood the market today.


#DiscoveryTuesday: Clothes Dryer (George T. Sampson)


George T. Sampson did not invent the clothes dryer, but improved it so much so that it has been recognized as the real starting point of the modern day clothes dryer. His innovation was in designing the dryer as a frame that could be placed over a stove and easily removed when not in use. Earlier dryers that also used heat to dry clothes were called ventilators. However, these were large metal drums that had to be placed over a fire and constantly rotated. Sampson’s design did not require manual rotation or an open flame. His automatic clothes dryer was patented in 1892.

#DiscoveryTuesday: The Ironing Board (Sarah Boone)

Sarah Boone was an African-American inventor who was awarded a patent for the ironing board.

Born in the Deep South—in Summit, Pike County, Mississippi—in the 1860s or 1870s, Sarah Boone made her name by inventing the ironing board. Boone was a rarity during her time, a female African-American inventor. In her patent application, she wrote that the purpose of her invention was “to produce a cheap, simple, convenient and highly effective device, particularly adapted to be used in ironing the sleeves and bodies of ladies’ garments.” Prior to that time, most people ironed using a board of wood rested across a pair of chairs or tables. She was living in New Haven, Connecticut, when her patent was granted in 1892. She died in 1900.


*Originally published on Biography.

Are You A Wanderluster?: The Genetic Reason Why Some People Are Born To Travel All Over The World


There are some people who never feel the urge to leave their home. They’re content growing up in the same place, going to college in the same town, sitting on the same couch, and surrounding themselves with the same people.

On the other extreme side of the spectrum are the wanderlusters – or explorers, rebels, thrill-seekers, whatever you want to call them – who can’t sit still and have a constant itch to explore. They have a thirst to see and experience as much of the world as possible. A thirst cannot be quenched no matter how many journeys or vacations they take.

There’s no one place that they call home, because home is everywhere.

It turns out, there’s a scientific explanation.

In 1999, four scientists from UC Irvine published a paper titled “Population Migration and the Variation of Dopamine D4 Receptor (DRD4) Allele Frequencies Around the Globe” that explored the migration patterns and gene pool distribution of pre-historic human beings. They were originally researching for links between dopamine receptor D4 (DRD4) and Attention Deficit Disorder. While conducting the study, they discovered another weird correlation: people with the DRD4 genes tend to be thrill-seeking and migratory. And almost all study participants with this gene had a long history of traveling. From the study’s conclusion:

“As previous research has shown, long alleles of the DRD4 gene have been linked to novelty-seeking personality, hyperactivity, and risk-taking behaviors … It can be argued reasonably that exploratory behaviors are adaptive in migratory societies…usually harsh, frequently changing, and always providing a multitude of novel stimuli and ongoing challenges to survival”

The findings revealed a very strong association between the proportion of long alleles of the DRD4 gene in a population and its prehistorical macro-migration histories.”

The DRD4 bearers were genetically pre-disposed to migrate, but only a small portion of the human genetic pool contains this trait. Whereas most of the population preferred to “[develop] intensive methods for using limited amounts of land”, these DRD4 thrill seekers actively sought out uninhabited lands “for more successful exploitation of resources in the particular environment”


These wanderlusters were the crucial movers who pushed human civilizations out of Mesopotamia, spanning societies into Europe, Asia, Africa, and America.

Other studies have supported this finding. In an investigation published by the National Geographics, journalist David Dobbs set out to find out why human beings travel. From the article:

“No other mammal moves around like we do,” says Svante Pääbo, a director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, where he uses genetics to study human origins. “We jump borders. We push into new territory even when we have resources where we are. Other animals don’t do this. Other humans either. Neanderthals were around hundreds of thousands of years, but they never spread around the world. In just 50,000 years we covered everything. There’s a kind of madness to it. Sailing out into the ocean, you have no idea what’s on the other side. And now we go to Mars. We never stop. Why?”

Why indeed.

All evidence pointed to the DRD4 gene again. Dobbs found that there are dozens of studies that correlated DRD4 gene with increased desire to “explore new places, ideas, foods, relationships, drugs, or sexual opportunities; and generally embrace movement, change, and adventure.”

The natural desire to explore is most intensely expressed in children, who aggressively form hypotheses in their minds and experiment. Can I place this block on another one without toppling over? Will I get the cookie if I cry or ask nicely? What happens if I hit the person who takes my toy, will they give my toy back or fight back? What if I hop over this fence I’m not suppose to; will I find new things to do? Such ruthlessly efficient hypothesis testing makes children natural adventurers.

And people who retain this adventurous trait in adulthood are the explorers. The ones who dare to venture into unchartered territories.

The ones who push human civilizations forward.



*Originally published on Bit of News

7 Things That Wouldn’t Exist Without Black People

As Black History Month comes to an end, we must remind ourselves that February isn’t the only month in the year to acknowledge the accomplishments of African-Americans, especially when we use some of the things that were invented by black people every day.

Black people have made some incredible contributions to society, including in the realms of music and culture. There are so many examples that we couldn’t fit them all in one post. But we decided to pulled together a short list of some of the things invented by black people that the world simply wouldn’t be able to live without — as a simple reminder that black history really is everyone’s history.

  • Ice Cream Scoop
    Who doesn’t enjoy a fresh scoop of ice cream on a hot day? Alfred A. Cralle invented the ice cream scoop making it easier for people everywhere to enjoy their favorite treat. Cralle studied at a seminary, worked as carpenter and then became interested in mechanics. He was first black man to receive a patent in Pittsburgh.


  • Traffic Light
    Imagine what the roads would look like without traffic lights. Well, thanks to Garrett A Morgan, we don’t have to. Born to freed slaves, with only 6th grade level of education, Morgan owned a repair shop, clothing business and cosmetic product line. He started The Cleveland Call black newspaper in 1920, and patented the mechanical traffic light in 1923 and sold it to General Electric.


  • Super Soaker Water Gun
    Lonnie G. Johnson changed childhoods forever when he invented the super soaker water gun. As a Tuskegee graduate who joined the Airforce and was assigned to Strategic Air Command, Johnson worked on the stealth bomber program. He also worked on the Galileo mission to Jupiter and the Cassini mission to Saturn. While working on an enviro-friendly heat pump, he invented the super soaker, and later started Johnson Research & Development and acquired some 100 patents.


  • The Potato Chip
    Snacking just wouldn’t be the same if George “Speck” Crum hadn’t invented the potato chip. A cook and restaurateur, the story of Crum’s invention is quite entertaining. He was working at a restaurant that served french fries and a customer sent them back for being cut too thickly which upset Crum’s sister (and sous-chef), so he cut them extra thin to enrage the customer. But they obviously loved them. The snacks were originally called “Saratoga Chips”



  • The Light Bulb
    Thomas Edison may have invented the light bulb, but Lewis Latimer perfected it. Latimer was an assistant to Alexander Graham Bell, who invented the first practical telephone, before joining Edison’s research team called “Edison’s Pioneers”. Edison’s prototypical light bulb had a filament that burnt out quickly, but Latimer invented a filament made with more durable carbon, and sold the “Incandescent Electric Light Bulb with Carbon Filament” patent to the United States Electric Company in 1881. He also patented the process to manufacture said filament in 1882, and then created the well-known threaded socket for the light bulb. We use tungsten light bulbs now, but he was famous for making use of electric light possible in public and at home. He oversaw installation of public electric lights in US, UK, and Canada. He also invented water closet for railroad cars and a precursor to the air conditioner.


  • The Dougie
    Inglewood natives Cali Swag District released the song in 2010 after a friend encouraged them to make a song about the popular dance. However, rapper Doug E. Fresh is hailed as the originator of the popular dance, which is reportedly named after him, a feat he admitted he’s quite proud of. “This is the first time in history, in Hip-Hop, a rap artist didn’t make the dance himself, like make a song about the dance himself,” the rapper said during an interview. “This was people making the dance about you. Taking your dance and doing it about you. That ain’t never been done before. This is another level. It was blessing and I appreciated it. It Feels good that people know you created something and it wasn’t for money, it was for the love of Hip-Hop.”


*This article was originally published on the Huffington Post.