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The Et Cetera

Black innovators shaping the future of STEM

Veronica Trejo

African Americans are frequently celebrated for their achievements in the arts, yet their significant contributions to the STEM field often go unnoticed. As we honor Black History Month, let’s take an opportunity to highlight five remarkable individuals who are making meaningful contributions to STEM today.

Lanny Smoot:

Considered Disney’s most prolific inventor who will be inducted into the National Invetor’s Hall of Fame this May. His impressive special effects bring Disney parks and resorts worldwide to life. Smoot predicted a world where anyone could broadcast video and his early career was focused on developing video-on-demand and fiber-optic technology. His most notable invention is a realistic lightsaber, which is capable of extending, retracting and mirrors what’s seen in Disney’s Star Wars films. He’s also recently developed the “HoloTile Floor”, an omnidirectional floor that allows people to walk in any direction without exiting it’s surface. 

Dawn Wright: 

On July 11, 2022, Dawn Wright was the first black female oceanographer to traverse the Challenger Deep. Wright joins a small and privileged group of people to visit the Challenger Deep, the deepest part of the ocean, and return alive. The maximum depth recorded during her dive was 10,919 meters.  During her dive, she was able to test a full ocean depth side scan sonar – the first device of its kind that could allow for ultra-high detailed mapping or detection of wreckage using its radar. An A&M Alumni, she also advocates for women of color in STEM.

James E.K. Hildreth: 

Following his father’s death in 1968 to renal cancer, he was inspired to pursue a medicinal career. His groundbreaking research into HIV in the early ‘80s led to numerous breakthroughs, for example, his lab identified the role of cholesterol in HIV infection. In 2023, under his leadership, Meharry Medical College began creating the first genomics database for people of African ancestry. The project currently has over 500,000 volunteer participants and aims to create more equitable medical research worldwide. 

Nola Hylton: 

A veteran cancer researcher whose work has changed lives throughout the world, she developed Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technology for detecting and diagnosing breast cancer. Her recent work has also identified that positron emission tomography coupled with MRI can be used to better personalize breast cancer treatment.  In 2022, she was inducted into the National Academy of Engineering, which is the highest professional honor that can be given to an engineer. She’s also a professor at UCSF in their department of radiology as director of the Breast Imaging Research Group.

Oyekunle Ayinde “Kunle” Olukton:

This computer scientists led the Stanford Hydra Chip multiprocessor research project, which has transformed the computing landscape by developing the first chip multiprocessor with support for thread-level speculation. In 2017, he cofounded SambaNova Systems, which aims to develop a next-gen computing platform to power machine learning and data analytics. Today, he holds 12 US patents, has published over 150 scientific papers and has written two textbooks. 

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About the Contributors
Mattheau Faught
Mattheau Faught, Presentation Editor
Veronica Trejo
Veronica Trejo, Graphic Designer

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