George Alcorn

George Alcorn -

Pioneer in the fields of aerospace and semiconductor devices.

A noted academic and administrator, George Edward Alcorn, Jr. is a noted pioneer in the field of semiconductor devices and one of the top inventors in the field of aerospace.

Born March 22, 1940 in Indianapolis, Indiana, George was the son of Arletta and George Alcorn, Sr., an auto mechanic. Both parents promoted the virtu of education to George, Jr. and his younger brother Charles.

George was an excellent student in high school and entered Occidental College in Los Angeles, California on an academic scholarship. He was a remarkable athlete and received varsity letters in baseball and football. He also graduated with honors with a degree in physics in 1962 and followed this by enrolling in the Nuclear Physics program at Howard University. He completed his Master’s work in 1963.

He obtained work during the summers of 1962 and 1963 at North American Rockwell, a leading aerospace company. He worked in the company’s the space division and was assigned to perform computer analysis on the orbital mechanics and launch trajectories for rockets and missiles. Some of his work involved the Titan and Saturn rockets from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Apollo space missions and well as the NOVA missile.

In 1964, Alcorn applied for a research grant from NASA to study the concept of negative ion formation. He was awarded the grant and conducted his research from 1965 to 1967. At the same time, he was enrolled in the Physics program at Howard University and received a PhD in Atomic and Molecular physics in 1967. Finally, after tremendous success and researcher, George took a moment to focus on his personal life and got married to Marie DaViller in 1969.

Alcorn signed on with Philco-Ford, a division of the Ford Motor Company. Philco-Ford produced a wide array of products, ranging from car radio to television set. It also had an aerospace division which developed satellite tracking systems for NASA’s manned space program. Alcorn served as a senior scientist for the aerospace division. He later worked as a senior physicist for Perkin Elmer, a multinational technology corporation and then as an advisory engineer for International Business Machines (IBM). His relationship with IBM proved quite valuable in 1973 when he was selected to teach as an IBM Visiting Professor in Electrical Engineering at Howard University (eventually becoming a full professor). As if his schedule was not already busy enough, he also taught Electrical Engineering at the University of the District of Columbia as a full professor.

In 1978, Alcorn left IBM and joined NASA where he invented an imaging X-ray spectrometer which used thermomigration of aluminum. X-ray spectrometry is used to provide data which can be analyzed for a number of applications, including for obtaining information about remote solar systems and other space objects. He would receive a patent for the device in 1984. As a result of the significance of this work, he was the NASA/GSFC Inventor of the Year (GSFC is an acronym for the Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA’s first space flight center established in May of 1959). In 1986 he developed an improved method of fabrication using laser drilling.

Because of his success in his endeavors, NASA placed him in an administrative/management position as the deputy project manager for advanced development of new technologies for use in the International Space Station, Freedom. In 1990 he was named the manager for advanced programs for NASA/GSFC and in 1992 became the head of the Office of Commercial Programs at GSFC, helping to find commercial uses for the new technologies developed at GSFC. Later he ran the GSFC Evolution program which oversaw the development and running of the space station. In 1994, he oversaw a space shuttle experiment which utilized a “Robot Operated Material Processing System” to conduct the manufacturing of material in the microgravity of space.

In 1999, he was awarded the Government Technology Leadership award and two years later was awarded special congressional recognition for his work for aiding business in the Virgin Island in employing technology. Finally in 2005 he was named the Assistant Director for Standard/Excellent – Applied Engineering and Technology Directorate for GSFC.

George Alcorn

Over his career, Alcorn created numerous noteworthy inventions and secured more than 25 patents. He is seen as a pioneer in the field of plasma semiconductor devices. His concept and implementation of “plasma etching” has become a standard in the industry. He also served his community well over the years, involving himself in programs aimed at recruiting minorities and women to NASA as well as programs to encourage inner-city children to focus on science. In 1984, Alcorn was awarded the NASA-EEO medal for his efforts and was honored by Howard University with its Heritage of Greatness award.

George Alcorn is a well-rounded academic and leader in the field of space science, but his contributions as a manager as well as a community leader distinguishes him in the field of science.


Interview with George Alcorn

George Carruthers

George Carruthers - blackinventor.comOften, greatness is determined by the times in which one finds oneself. For George Carruthers, growing up in the earliest stages of the space race, he like most other boys was fascinated with space travel. Unlike most of those boys, he would ultimately go on to make some of the greatest contribution to ever benefit the space program.

George Carruthers was born on October 1, 1939 in Cincinnati, Ohio. His father was a civil engineer while his mother was a homemaker. The family lived in Milford, Ohio and George was an avid science fiction reader and constructed model rockets with help and encouragement from his father. He also had an interest in astronomy and at age 10, built his first telescope with a cardboard tube and a lens he purchased through mail-order. When his father passed away suddenly, the family moved to his mother’s hometown of Chicago, Illinois. There George spent a lot of time in the Chicago libraries and museums and in the Adler Planetarium He joined various science clubs and was a member of the Chicago Rocket Society. He read with particular interest about the space exploits of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC and upon graduating from Englewood High School in 1957, he enrolled in the University of Illinois.

Carruthers stayed at the University of Illinois for seven years, receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering in 1961, a Master’s degree in Nuclear Engineering in 1962 and a Ph.D. in Aeronautical and Astronomical Engineering in 1964 (his thesis focused on atomic nitrogen recombination). In his own words, “[W]hen I was in college, I was undecided whether to pursue aerospace engineering or astronomy as my major, so I decided to take courses in both of them.” While doing his graduate work, he also worked as a research and teaching assistant, working with plasma and gases. Upon finishing his Ph.D., he immediately accepted a position with the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) as a Research Physicist in 1964, having received a fellowship in Rocket Astronomy from the National Science Foundation.

George Carruthers - blackinventor.comUpon joining the NRL, Carruthers focused his attention on far ultraviolet astronomy, observing the Earth’s upper atmosphere and other astronomical phenomena. In 1966, he became a research assistant at the NRL’s E.O. Hulburt Center for Space Research where he began research on ways to create visual images as a means for understanding the physical elements of deep space. He particularly focused on creating a device to analyze and illuminate ultraviolet radiation. His belief was “[T]he far ultraviolet… is of great importance to the astronomer because it allows the detection and measurements of common elements (hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, and many others) in their cool, unexcited state… This allows more accurate measurements of the compositions of interstellar gas, planetary atmospheres, etc..
The ultraviolet also conveys important information on solid particles in interstellar space… and provides for much more accurate measurements of the energy output of very hot stars…”. In 1969, Carruthers received a patent for his invention the “Image Converter for Detecting Electromagnetic Radiation Especially in Short Wave Lengths” which detected electromagnetic radiation in short wave lengths.

Further extending his his research, he was the principle inventor of the Far Ultraviolet Camera/Spectrograph which would ultimately be used on the Apollo 16 mission to the moon. Ultraviolet (UV) light is the range of electromagnetic radiation that lies between visible light and X-Rays. UV light, thus allows us to take readings of and understand objects and elements in space that are unrecognizable to the naked eye. The 50 lbs., gold-plated camera system was able to record radiation existing in the upper half of the ultraviolet system of the atmosphere. The camera allowed views of stars and celestial bodies and looks into the solar system thousands of miles away, as well as of the earth. A second version of the camera was sent on the 1974 SkyLab space flight to study comets (it would be used to observe Halley’s, West’s and Kohoutek’s comets). One of the great uses of the camera was to permit a viewer to visually see the effects of pollution on the atmosphere. The camera also was able, for the first time, to detect hydrogen in space, which gave an indication that plants were not the only source of oxygen for the Earth and led to a renewed debate about the origin of stars.

George CarruthersGeorge Carruthers has continued to offer innovation in the areas of astronomy and physics and has been active in outreach programs seeking to bring science to youth around the country. He has been lauded for his efforts and achievements. He was named Black Engineer of the Year in 1987, awarded the Arthur Fleming Award in 1971, the Exceptional Achievement Scientific Award from NASA in 1972, the Warner Prize in 1973 and was inducted into National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2003. His success is primed to lead to greater achievements by those who follow in his footsteps in the future.



George Crum -

George Crum

George Crum - blackinventor.comGeorge Crum was born as George Speck in 1822 in Saratoga Lake, New York, the son of a Huron Native-American mother and an African-American father who worked as a jockey. He worked for a while as a mountain guide and trapper in the Adirondack Mountains in New York.

In 1853 he became the head chef at the Cary Moon’s Lake House in Lake Saratoga, New York and on one evening set out  preparing the evening dinner for the guests. He intended to make french fries but a guest complained that they were too thick. Annoyed, he prepared another batch and sliced the potatoes extremely thin. After deep frying them in oil he found them very thin and very crisp and after adding salt found that the guests loved them. George began preparing the potatoes this way and they would soon become known as potato chips.

In 1860 George decided to open his own restaurant on Malta Avenue in Saratoga Lake. He featured potato chips as appetizers on each table. The restaurant was very successful and operated for 30 years, closing in 1890. Unfortunately, he never patented the potato chip, nor sought to market them outside of his restaurant. A few years after he retired, however, potato chips were mass marketed by others and would eventually become a six billion dollar a year industry.

George Crum died in 1904 at the age of 92 and left behind the legacy of creating the greatest snack food of all time.




George Grant

George Grant - blackinventor.comGeorge F. Grant knew what most of us have come to recognize – the average golfer is a hacker, destroying grass courses and terrorizing other golfers, homeowners and passersby with wild, dangerous drives. Although he loved the game, he grew frustrated trying to keep the ball from rolling away from him as he attempted to tee off and did not want to swing at the ball while it was moving, thus sending off a wild shot.

On December 12, 1899, Grant patented a golf tee which raised the golf ball (made of rubber at that time) slightly off of the ground, enabling the player greater control with his wooden club and therefore of the direction and speed of the drive. The tee was made of a small wooden peg with a concave piece of rubber on top to hold the ball and in addition to helping with control over the direction of the shot, it also aided in promoting longer drives.

George Grant’s small invention has become a standard piece of equipment for all golfers.


George Murray

George Murray - blackinventor.comGeorge Murray was, without a doubt, one of the most remarkable citizens of his time. A teacher, farmer, land developer and federal customs inspector, the former slave would go on to become a United States Congressman and a noted inventor.

George Murray was born in Sumter County, South Carolina in September, 1853. He spent the first 13 years of his life as a slave, but after the Emancipation Proclamation enrolled at South Carolina State University and later continued his education at the State Normal Institute. George Murray’s patentIn the next 20 years he served as a school teacher, the Chairman of the Sumter County Republican Committee and as a customs inspector for the Port of Charleston, a position was appointed to by the President of the United States, Benjamin Harrison.

In 1892 George Murray was elected as United States Congressman, representing the state of South Carolina. In this position he frequently spoke from the floor of the House, describing the plight of Black citizens and imploring his fellow Congressmen to protect those citizens rights. One topic that Murray spoke openly about was the plight of the Black inventor. In that day of age, most whites were completely unaware of the success that many Blacks had enjoyed in inventing useful devices which were benefiting ordinary citizens. Murray recounted these achievements and read them into the Congressional Record. While serving in his second term, Murray secured patents for eight inventions, including cultivating and fertilizing equipment and a cotton chopper.

After serving two terms in Congress, Murray became a real estate speculator, eventually moving to Chicago, Illinois in 1905. He died in April of 1926 and was buried in Illinois.

Granville Woods

Granville Woods - blackinventor.comThe magnitude of an inventors work can often be defined by the esteem in which he is held by fellow inventors. If this is the case, then Granville Woods was certainly a respected inventor as he was often referred to as the “Black Thomas Edison.”

Granville Woods was born on April 23, 1856 in Columbus, Ohio. He spent his early years attending school until the age of 10 at which point he began working in a machine shop repairing railroad equipment and machinery. Intrigued by the electricity that powered the machinery, Woods studied other machine workers as they attended to different pieces of equipment and paid other workers to sit down and explain electrical concepts to him. Over the next few years, Woods moved around the country working on railroads and in steel rolling mills. This experience helped to prepare him for a formal education studying engineering (surprisingly, it is unknown exactly where he attended school but it is believed it was an eastern college.)

After two years of studying, Woods obtained a job as an engineer on a British steamship called the Ironsides. Two years later he obtained employment with D & S Railroads, driving a steam locomotive. Unfortunately, despite his high aptitude and valuable education and expertise, Woods was denied opportunities and promotions because of the color of his skin. Out of frustration and a desire to promote his abilities, Woods, along with his brother Lyates, formed the Woods Railway Telegraph Company in 1884. The company manufactured and sold telephone, telegraph and electrical equipment. One of the early inventions from the company was an improved steam boiler furnace and this was followed up by an improved telephone transmitter which had superior clarity of sound and could provide for longer range of distance for transmission.

In 1885, Woods patented a apparatus which was a combination of a telephone and a telegraph. The device, which he called “telegraphony,” would allow a telegraph station to send voice and telegraph messages over a single wire. The device was so successful that he later sold it to the American Bell Telephone Company. In 1887, Woods developed his most important invention to date – a device he called Synchronous Multiplex Railway Telegraph. A variation of the “induction telegraph,” it allowed for messages to be sent from moving trains and railway stations. By allowing dispatchers to know the location of each train, it provided for greater safety and a decrease in railway accidents.


Granville Woods often had difficulties in enjoying his success as other inventors made claims to his devices. Thomas Edison made one of these claims, stating that he had first created a similar telegraph and that he was entitled to the patent for the device. Woods was twice successful in defending himself, proving that there were no other devices upon which he could have depended or relied upon to make his device. After the second defeat, Edison decided that it would be better to work with Granville Woods than against him and thus offered him a position with the Edison Company.

In 1892, Woods used his knowledge of electrical systems in creating a method of supplying electricity to a train without any exposed wires or secondary batteries. Approximately every 12 feet, electricity would be passed to the train as it passed over an iron block. He first demonstrated the device as an amusement apparatus at the Coney Island amusement park and while it amused patrons, it would be a novel approach towards making safer travel for trains.

Many of Woods inventions attempted to increase efficiency and safety railroad cars, Woods developed the concept of a third rail which would allow a train to receive more electricity while also encountering less friction. This concept is still used on subway train platforms in major cities in the United States.

Over the course of his life time Granville Woods would obtain more than 50 patents for inventions including an automatic brake and an egg incubator and for improvements to other inventions such as safety circuits, telegraph, telephone, and phonograph. When he died on January 30, 1910 in New York City he had become an admired and well respected inventor, having sold a number of his devices to such giants as Westinghouse, General Electric and American Engineering – more importantly the world knew him as the Black Thomas Edison.


Granville Woods Biography