Our list of influential Black biologists is as diverse as the field of study. These leaders in the field of biology include ecologists, biomedical engineers, educators, immunologists, and scientists. They are doing groundbreaking work and advancing the field, helping to prepare the next generation of biologists.
Biology, the study of life and living organisms, covers a vast array of topics and specializations, and can prepare you for diverse and lucrative career paths. Biologists may work in health care, conservation, education, biotechnology, business, industry, and economics.
Today, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, Biology is the 4th most popular bachelor’s degree among college graduates of all races and genders. For Black men and women, biology ranks as the 12th most popular subject at the bachelor’s level, with Black women out numbering Black men by nearly three to one. However there’s a significant reduction in the number of Black students pursing non-medical biology degrees at the doctoral level. Indeed, Black biology PhD graduates have the lowest representation of all races. Black students seek graduate degrees in medicine at nearly the same rate as those of any other race, but the important discinction is that in the research and academic (non-medical) worlds, Black biologists are entering biology careers in comparatively lower numbers.
The National Science Foundation studied the science and engineering workforce over four decades to produce its 2015 report on minorites in science and engineering. Composed largely of people who earned science and engineering degrees, the NSF reported that Black scientists and engineers are underrepresented in sciecne and engineering occupations, making up only 4.8% of the workforce in those fields. That is, a smaller proportion of Blacks are in sciecne and engineering occupations than are in the U.S. workforce as a whole (4.8% versus 12%). More relevant to biology, only 2.5% of life scientists were Black.
There is a word of encouragement in the same report. The NSF clarifies that because older cohorts of science and engineering workers are disproportionately white and male, women and minorities constitute a smaller percentage of the overall science and engineering workforce than of degree recipients who recently joined the workforce. In other words, in the four decades of the study ending in 2015, they noticed the upward trend in minorities entering science and engineering careers.
We should expect to see a rising trendline of Black students entering the life sciences. While more is still needed, there are many organizations at work encouraging Black children and youth to consider STEM fields. In the workforce as well, there are associations like The Black Microbiologists Association, pushing the discussions of racial disparities in the field so that a more just and appealing career field can be made.
Today, influential Black scholars are researching, publishing, and teaching in areas such as genetics, amphibians, steroid hormones, sex differentiation (Hayes), the neural and genetic mechanisms of spoken language (Jarvis), and the development of the coronavirus vaccine (Corbett).
40 Influential Black Biologists From the Last 30 Years
The Black scholars in our list were identified as highly cited and searched people using our machine-powered Influence Ranking algorithm, which produces a numerical score of academic achievements, merits, and citations across Wikipedia, wikidata, Crossref, Semantic Scholar and an ever-growing body of data.
Influence is dynamic, therefore some of the biologists listed are contemporary scholars while other historical figures may be more famous Black biologists. In either case, according to our AI, these are the most cited and searched Black biologists over the past 30 years.
The people on this list are arranged alphabetically
Maydianne Andrade is a Jamaican-born Canadian ecologist. She is known for her work on the mating habits of spiders, in particular spiders belonging to the Latrodectus species. In 2007, she was named a Canadian Research Chair in Integrative Behavioural Ecology.
Treena Livingston Arinzeh is Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Columbia University in New York, New York, joining in 2022. She was formerly a Distinguished Professor in Biomedical Engineering at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, New Jersey. She is known for her research on adult stem-cell therapy. Arinzeh takes part in the American Chemical Society’s Project Seeds program, opening up her lab for high school students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds for summer internships.
Dr. Carl A. Barnes is a Pathology Specialist in Florence, Alabama. He graduated with honors from University of Alabama School of Medicine in 1978. Having more than 43 years of diverse experiences, Dr. Carl A Barnes affiliates with Eliza Coffee Memorial Hospital, cooperates with many other doctors and specialists in medical group Florence Pathology Services LLC. He is a resident at Alton Ochsner Medical Foundation, New Orleans, Louisiana .
Patricia Era Bath was an American ophthalmologist, inventor, humanitarian, and academic. She invented an improved device for laser cataract surgery. Her invention was called Laserphaco Probe, which she patented in 1986. She also became the first woman member of the Jules Stein Eye Institute, first woman to lead a post-graduate training program in ophthalmology, and first woman elected to the honorary staff of the UCLA Medical Center. Bath was the first African-American person to serve as a resident in ophthalmology at New York University. She was also the first African-American woman to serve...
Frederic Bertley is a Canadian immunologist and science educator. He is currently the President & CEO of COSI , a science museum in Columbus, Ohio. Prior to COSI, Bertley worked as Senior Vice President for Science and Education at The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.
Carolyn Branch Brooks is an American microbiologist known for her research in immunology, nutrition, and crop productivity. Early life and education Brooks was born July 8, 1946, in Richmond, Virginia to Shirley Booker Branch and Charles Walker Branch, grocery store owners. Her grandparents and her older sister also helped raise her. She attended high school on the north side of Richmond. In the 1950s, the family moved to the west side of town and this made schooling a little more difficult for the children because they had to take public transportation. Brooks wanted to attend her old schoo...
Dr. Alexa Irene Canady is a retired American medical doctor specializing in pediatric neurosurgery. She was born in Lansing, Michigan and earned both her bachelors and medical degree from the University of Michigan. After completing her residency at the University of Minnesota in 1981, she became the first black woman to become a neurosurgeon. This came after Ruth Kerr Jakoby became the first American woman to be board certified in neurosurgery in 1961.
Emmett W. Chappelle was an American scientist who made valuable contributions in the fields of medicine, philanthropy, food science, and astrochemistry. His achievements led to his induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for his work on bioluminescence, in 2007. Being honored as one of the 100 most distinguished African American scientists of the 20th Century, he was also one of the members of the American Chemical Society, the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, the American Society of Photobiology, the American Society of Microbiology, and the American Society...
Jewel Plummer Cobb was an American biologist, cancer researcher, professor, dean, and academic administrator. She contributed to the field of cancer research by studying the cure for melanoma. Cobb was an advocate for increasing the representation of women and students of color in universities, and she created programs to support students interested in pursuing graduate school.
Margaret James Strickland Collins was an African-American child prodigy, entomologist specializing in the study of termites, and a civil rights advocate. Collins was nicknamed the “Termite Lady” because of her extensive research on termites. Together with David Nickle, Collins identified a new species of termite called Neotermes luykxi. When Collins earned her PhD., she became the first African American female entomologist and the third African American female zoologist.
Kizzmekia “Kizzy” Shanta Corbett is an American viral immunologist. She is an Assistant Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Shutzer Assistant Professor at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute since June 2021.
Patricia S. Cowings is an aerospace psychophysiologist. She was the first American woman to be trained as a scientist astronaut by NASA; though she was an alternate for a space flight in 1979, she did not travel to space. She is most known for her studies in the physiology of astronauts in outer space, as well as helping find cures for astronaut’s motion sickness.
Marie Maynard Daly was an American biochemist. She was the first African-American to receive a Ph.D. from Columbia University and the first African-American woman in the United States to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry. Daly made important contributions in four areas of research: the chemistry of histones, protein synthesis, the relationships between cholesterol and hypertension, and creatine’s uptake by muscle cells.
Lloyd A. Demetrius is an American mathematician and theoretical biologist at the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary biology, Harvard University. He is best known for the discovery of the concept evolutionary entropy, a statistical parameter that characterizes Darwinian fitness in models of evolutionary processes at various levels of biological organization – molecular, organismic and social. Evolutionary entropy, a generalization of the Gibbs-Boltzmann entropy in statistical thermodynamics, is the cornerstone of directionality theory, an analytical study of evolution by variation and s...
Darlene Dixon is an American veterinary scientist and toxicologic pathologist researching the pathogenesis/carcinogenesis of tumors affecting the reproductive tract of rodents and humans and assessing the role of environmental and endogenous hormonal factors in the growth of these tumors. She is a senior investigator at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
Scott Vernon Edwards is the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Organismal and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University and the Curator of Ornithology at Harvard’s associated museum, the Museum of Comparative Zoology.
Almyra Oveta Fuller was an associate professor of microbiology and immunology at University of Michigan Medical School. She served as the director of the African Studies Center , faculty in the ASC STEM Initiative at the University of Michigan and an adjunct professor at Payne Theological Seminary. Fuller was a virologist and specialized in research of Herpes simplex virus, as well as HIV/AIDS. Fuller and her research team discovered a B5 receptor, advancing the understanding of Herpes simplex virus and the cells it attacks.
Joseph L. Graves Jr. is an American evolutionary biologist and geneticist. He is a professor of biological science at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, and a former associate dean for research at the Joint School for Nanoscience and Nanoengineering, which is jointly administered by North Carolina A & T State University and UNC Greensboro.
Tyrone B. Hayes is an American biologist and professor of Integrative Biology at University of California, Berkeley known for his research concluding that the herbicide atrazine is an endocrine disruptor that demasculinizes and feminizes male frogs. He is also an advocate for critical review and regulation of pesticides and other chemicals that may cause adverse health effects. He has presented hundreds of papers, talks, and seminars on his conclusions that environmental chemical contaminants have played a role in global amphibian declines and in the health disparities that occur in minority ...
Erich Jarvis is an American professor at Rockefeller University. He leads a team of researchers who study the neurobiology of vocal learning, a critical behavioral substrate for spoken language. The animal models he studies include songbirds, parrots, and hummingbirds. Like humans, these bird groups have the ability to learn new sounds and pass on their vocal repertoires culturally, from one generation to the next. Jarvis focuses on the molecular pathways involved in the perception and production of learned vocalizations, and the development of brain circuits for vocal learning.
Tuajuanda C. Jordan has served as the seventh president of St. Mary’s College of Maryland since July 1, 2014. From 2006 to 2011, Jordan served as director of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science Education Alliance program, where she launched the SEA-PHAGES program. This program has been implemented at more than 100 institutions and resulted in numerous scientific and pedagogical publications. Prior to joining St. Mary’s College, Jordan also held a number of leadership positions in higher education, including dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and professor of chemistry at Lewi...
Ernest Everett Just was a pioneering African-American biologist, academic and science writer. Just’s primary legacy is his recognition of the fundamental role of the cell surface in the development of organisms. In his work within marine biology, cytology and parthenogenesis, he advocated the study of whole cells under normal conditions, rather than simply breaking them apart in a laboratory setting.
George Malcolm Langford is a Professor of Biology, Dean Emeritus of the College of Arts and Sciences, and a distinguished Professor of Neuroscience at Syracuse University College of Arts and Sciences in Syracuse, New York. He is known for his work on the cell and molecular biology of the actin cytoskeleton in health and disease.
Cato T. Laurencin, M.D., Ph.D., FREng SLMH, , is an American engineer, physician, scientist, innovator and a University Professor of the University of Connecticut . He is currently the Chief Executive Officer of The Connecticut Convergence Institute for Translation in Regenerative Engineering.
Oscar E. Liburd is a faculty member at University of Florida, Entomology and Nematology Department. Dr. Liburd has a Doctor of Philosophy in Entomology. He is developing environmentally sound insect pest management programs in fruit and vegetable systems for Florida and the southeastern US. Applied and basic research is performed in organic and conventional systems including blueberries, strawberries, grapes, blackberries, cucurbits, and cole crops.
Areas of expertise include management of thrips, midges, mites, whiteflies, aphids, scale insects, flea beetles, mealybugs, lepidopteran pests and fruit flies. Dissemination of research-based information to state and county extension faculty, commodity groups, growers, various levels of government, and private-industries occurs through innovative educational programs comprised of grower meetings, workshops, in-service training sessions, newsletters, and via the internet. The laboratory also develops and updates educational materials, and pest management recommendations targeting growers, agribusiness, and crop consultants. The international research and extension activities are focused on pesticide safety, resistance management and implementation of bio-rational strategies in Africa and the Caribbean region .
Ruth Smith Lloyd was a 20th-century scientist whose research focused on fertility, the relationship of sex hormones to growth, and the female sex cycle. She earned a PhD in the field of anatomy from Western Reserve University in 1941, making her the first African-American woman to have reached this achievement. Lloyd worked on the faculty of medicine at Howard University from 1942 to 1977. She married physician Sterling Morrison Lloyd in 1939, and they had three children: Marilyn, Sterling and David. She died of cancer in 1995.
Marion Mann entered Howard University Medical School in 1950 and was graduated (M.D.) in 1954. After graduation, his career as a pathologist included serving as a Deputy Coroner in Washington, D.C. Along the way, he earned the Ph.D. degree (1961) from Georgetown University. He accepted a full-time assistant professorship of pathology at his alma mater (Howard) in 1961 and by 1970 was promoted to the rank of professor and named Medical School Dean of Howard University. It was during his administration as Dean that the faculty voted to approve requirements that Part-I of the National Board examination be passed for promotion to junior, and that graduating students had passed Part-II. Under Mann’s leadership, the Medical School initiated new programs leading to the Ph.D. in anatomy, genetics, and microbiology.
Even though Mann had left the regular Army, he remained in the military as an Army Medical Corps reservist and by 1975 was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General. From 1988 until 1991, after a period of retirement, Mann served as Associate Vice President at Howard University. In that role, he established the University’s Office of Research and Administration .
Ruth Ella Moore was an American bacteriologist and microbiologist, who, in 1933, became the first African-American woman to be awarded a Ph.D. in a natural science. She was a professor of bacteriology at Howard University. A decade later, she was installed as the head of the department of bacteriology, which she renamed to the department of microbiology. During that period she was promoted to associate professor of microbiology.
Samuel M. Nabrit, became the first African American to be awarded a doctoral degree from Brown University, the first Morehouse College graduate to earn a Ph.D. and the first African American appointed to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission . He was also the first African American to serve on the Brown University Board of Trustees.
Camellia Moses Okpodu , is a college professor and dean. Education and early life Camellia Okpodu graduated in 1982 from West Brunswick High School, Shallotte, North Carolina. She received both her undergraduate and postgraduate education from North Carolina State University , earning a B.S. in Biochemistry and a Ph.D. in Plant Physiology and Biochemistry .
Dr. Kenneth Olden is a scientist whose research revolves around diseases, such as cancers, and how chemicals and environmental factors affect them. He was director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and National Toxicology Program, being the first African-American to head an National Institutes of Health institute, a position he held from 1991 to 2005. He was also the director of the Environmental Protection Agency and overseer of the Integrated Risk Information System . He is a scientist who expressed that socioeconomic factors are related to cancer survival rates a...
Joan Murrell Owens was an American educator and marine biologist specializing in corals. She received degrees in geology, fine art, and guidance counseling. She described a new genus, Rhombopsammia, and three new species of button corals, R. niphada, R. squiresi, and Letepsammia franki.
Dr. Eric W. Riddick is a Research Entomologist at the National Biological Control Laboratory, ARS-USDA, Stoneville, Mississippi, USA. He completed his Ph.D. in Entomology at the University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA and has previously worked at the United States Environmental Protection Agency, in Washington DC, and served as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Entomology at the University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA.
He is broadly interested in environmental health, protection of animal and plant biodiversity, sustainable pest management, conservation of natural resources, and urban agriculture. He now works primarily on the propagation, release, and conservation of natural enemies, especially ladybird beetles. Dr. Riddick is the author (or co-author) of more than 77 published papers and has presented at more than 45 conferences in the USA, Canada, Australia, and Switzerland. He also currently holds editorial appointments at the Bulletin of Insectology (University of Bologna) and the Journal of Economic Entomology (Entomological Society of America) .
George Calvin Royal Jr was an American microbiologist. George C. Royal was also part of one of the few African-American husband-and-wife teams in science, working with Gladys W. Royal, Ph.D. on research supported by the United States Atomic Energy Commission. George C. Royal is a professor emeritus at Howard University.
Gladys W. Royal is one of a small number of early African-American biochemists. Part of one of the few African-American husband-and-wife teams in science, Gladys worked with George C. Royal on research supported by the United States Atomic Energy Commission. She later worked for many years as principal biochemist at the Cooperative State Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Royal was also active in the civil rights movement in Greensboro, North Carolina.
David Satcher, is an American physician, and public health administrator. He was a four-star admiral in the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and served as the 10th Assistant Secretary for Health, and the 16th Surgeon General of the United States.
Pernessa C. Seele is an American immunologist and interfaith public health activist. Seele is the CEO and founder of Balm in Gilead, Inc., a religious-based organization that provides support to people with AIDS and their families, as well as working for prevention of HIV and AIDS. In 1989 she initiated the Harlem Week of Prayer, with 50 churches, synagogues and mosques participating. This became an annual event and organizing force for the religious community to respond to the AIDS crisis.
Colette Marie St. Mary is a professor and associate chair of the biology department at the University of Florida. Her research focuses include behavioral and evolutionary ecology, speciation, sexual selection, and evolutionary aspects of cancer. Working mainly with fish model organisms, St. Mary is also interested in marine fisheries management and reproduction and evolution in hatchery settings. St. Mary received her Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Harvard Radcliffe College before earning her Ph.D from University of California, Santa Barbara in 1994. She is the first African-American woman ...
Welton Ivan Taylor was an American microbiologist, inventor and civil rights activist. He is known for his work on food-borne pathogenss, notably for developing tests for Salmonella and for inventing the XLD agar, which can be used to isolate Salmonella and Shigella bacteria.
Paul E. Turner is an American evolutionary biologist and virologist, the Rachel Carson Professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale University, and a faculty member in microbiology at the Yale School of Medicine. His research focuses on the evolutionary genetics of viruses, particularly bacteriophages and RNA viruses transmitted by mosquitoes.
Geraldine Pittman Woods was an American science administrator. She is known for her lifelong dedication to community service and for establishing programs that promote minorities in STEM fields, scientific research, and basic research.
Jane Cooke Wright was a pioneering cancer researcher and surgeon noted for her contributions to chemotherapy. In particular, Wright is credited with developing the technique of using human tissue culture rather than laboratory mice to test the effects of potential drugs on cancer cells. She also pioneered the use of the drug methotrexate to treat breast cancer and skin cancer .
Black Microbiologists Association (BMA) – The BMA is an organization that was created in response to the sustained underrepresentation of Black people in microbiological education, training and research both here in the U.S. and globally. This exclusion leads to feelings of isolation, which are compounded by hostile training environments and racism faced in everyday life. Furthermore, Black expertise, voices, and perspectives are often devalued. As a result, cycles of marginalization and harm are perpetuated, which deprives our communities the benefits of scientific progress. Our mission is to support the collective work of pursuing equity in academia, industry, government, and beyond through advocacy, professional development, science communication, and outreach.
The Black Women in Computational Biology Network (BWCBN) – The BWCBN is an organization that is an intersectional community of Black women who are working toward (or interested in) a career that combines computational and quantitative sciences with Biology. Our community is comprised of womxn across all degree and professional levels from an array of backgrounds in biology, computer science, mathematics, bioengineering, chemistry, physics, medicine, public health data science, and much more refining their unique skillset to answer biological questions through a computational and quantitative lens. With these diverse professional skills, we also hope to create a space for women of all intersections of identity to thrive in an inclusive environment.