African Americans have been under-represented in scientific history, but the contributions of black scientists and inventors have had a significant effect on America’s life and times. This month, some 100 Guilford County high school students will get a special look at that history as part of N.C. A&T State University’s second annual “Colors of Innovation” day.

The students, along with about 50 N.C. A&T students, will spend Thursday, February 23, at the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering (JSNN). They’ll meet the 12 teams of freshman contestants in the university’s Freshman Innovation Challenge and hear from A&T undergraduate and graduate students about their research projects. The high school students also will tour the JSNN.

Keynote speaker for the event will be Lonnie Johnson, former Air Force and NASA engineer and now a successful entrepreneur. Johnson worked on projects including the stealth bomber and the Galileo mission to Jupiter before becoming famous for a radically simpler invention that he developed on his own – the Super Soaker water gun, one of the world’s consistently top-selling toys for the last 20 years. His firm, Johnson Research and Development, holds more than 100 patents. Its best known product is a new type of engine that converts heat directly into electricity.

The students also will view a presentation on black inventors and scientists, including:

  • George Washington Carver, the first major African American scientist;
  • Charles Drew, inventor of the blood bank;
  • Patricia Bath, ophthalmologist, who invented laser and ultrasound treatments for cataracts; and
  • Sandra Johnson, last year’s keynote speaker, who was a member of the team that developed the IBM supercomputer Deep Blue.

    The Colors of Innovation was developed as a Black History Month outreach project by the Division of Research and Economic Development at N.C. A&T. Its goal is to encourage innovative thinking, problem solving and an interest in science and engineering among high school students.