AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: black leaders in STEM

Scientist Spotlight: Ernest E. Just

As Black History month comes to an end, it is extremely important that we continue to take moments to celebrate the accomplishments of the Black Community, as well as recognize and learn about Black STEM leaders who made impactful discoveries and innovations in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. In this blog post, I will be spotlighting Dr. Ernest Everett Just.

Dr. Ernest E. Just was a renowned zoologist (with a focus in cytology) who received worldwide recognition for his work and discoveries in his respective field. Born in 1883, in Charleston, South Carolina, he lost his father at the age of four. Supported by his mother, Ernest was able to leave his home and pursue superior education in the north at the age of 17. Ernest earned a scholarship to the Kimball Union Academy in New Hampshire, where he would be the only Black student. He would then go on to attend Dartmouth and be the only student to graduate magna cum laude. Ernest majored in biology and minored in history. 

After graduating, Ernest went to teach at Howard University at the university’s Zoology department. In 1909, he began research at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, where he would focus on studying marine eggs. Ernest soon realized that earning a Ph.D. would be a key to future success as a researcher, thus he began a self-study program at the University of Chicago. Again, Ernest would graduate magna cum laude. 

After the University of Chicago, Ernest was able to publish two very influential books about his research: Basic Methods for Experiments on Eggs of Marine Mammals and Biology of the Cell SurfaceThese books “reflected Just’s holistic view of eggs and embryos: that is, eggs are to be taken seriously in their own right rather than seen simply as tools to manipulate in order to prove a theory.” For his research, Ernest conducted chemical-induced parthenogenesis on sea urchins and sand worms; while doing this, he also observed the creature’s normal fertilization with sperm cells. Parthenogenesis allows an egg to develop into an embryo without fertilization from a sperm cell. In our AP Biology class, we learned about meiosis which is necessary for the creation of gametes such as sperm and egg cells. These cells develop into sperm or ova. Then during fertilization, a sperm and ovum (egg cell) unite to form a new diploid organism.

From his research, Ernest was able to conclude that eggs contained a necessary mechanism for starting development. The egg’s cytoplasm was the key to the cell’s development, not just the nucleus. Ernest’s work and research were crucial. His research was both creative and logically rigorous. Essentially, while other researchers at the time focused on how genes were responsible for how different organs develop, Ernest demonstrated that one of the most important factors for development was just the egg’s environment. 

After reading a lot on Dr. Just, I am truly astonished. He was a gifted scholar and a talented researcher. Ernest was one of the first African Americans to get worldwide recognition for scientific discovery and is also considered one of the first Black marine biologists in American history. After reading about Ernest, I am inspired to learn more about other excellent Black scientists who have gone underappreciated.

Dr Jessie Price: Her Impact on the World of Vaccines

Dr Jessie Price, a black female veterinary microbiologist who changed the veterinary field for the better.

Dr. Price’s Path to Success: Academic Life

Born January 1, 1930, Dr. Jessie Price lived in Montrose Pennsylvania with her mother Teresa. Teresa Price was a huge motivator for her daughter’s success and pushed her daughter to flourish academically. As an adolescent, Dr. Jessie Price attended surrounding public schools, all were predominantly white. During this time, it was typical for graduates to jump into a career to support their families, however Teresa Price valued academics greatly and supported her daughter’s notable academic talent. Dr. Price attended the College of Agriculture at Cornell University, where her tuition was covered by her resident status, as she spent a year in Ithaca taking more classes at a nearby high school after graduation. Her goal to attend medical school was not met due to financial costs, however, she found her passion in microbiology. In 1953 she earned her bachelors degree in microbiology, then returned to receive her masters degree in veterinary bacteriology, pathology, and parasitology in 1956. in 1959, the same year she received her masters degree, she earned her Ph.D after completing her dissertation, “Studies on Pasteurella anatipestifer Infection in white Pekin Ducklings” published by the Journal of Avian Diseases. Dr. Price’s research career officially began in 1959 as she worked at the Cornell University Duck Research Laboratory.

Her Research

While working as a research specialist at the Cornell University Duck Research Laboratory, Dr. Jessie Price “focused on the identification and controlling bacterial diseases in commercial white Pekin ducklings” (Quintard Taylor). All of her hard work and focus lead to her discovery of how to recreate the disease in these ducks and create a vaccine against it.

Pasteurella Anatipestifer and the Vaccine

At this time around “10%-30% of the duckling population was lost in the first 8 weeks of their lives due to disease” (, this meant an extreme loss of money in the poultry farming business. Dr. Jessie Price found Pasteurella anatipestifer in the ill ducks she researched which caused the life threatening respiratory issues in the animals. Other symptoms include tremors and discolored diarrhea. Pasteurella anatipestifer is a septicaemic disease, meaning a pre-existing bacterial infection enters the blood stream and is highly transmittable. Dr. Jessie Price began the process of research by obtaining fluid from the duck’s cranium. This fluid was then kept in a glass container and stored in order to be used as a study subject.  “Duck broth” is then stored and examined for experimental culture. This research led to the discovery of the Riemerella Anatipestifer vaccince, one of the many vaccines that derived from this research, which works to prevent R. anatipestifer infection at early stages in the ducks life (when they are most susceptible to infection).

Duck Color Colorful Water - Free photo on Pixabay

Ultimately Dr. Price’s research saved the poultry industry and the hundreds of thousands of dollars lost due to poultry death. She passed away in 2015 and Cornell University includes more information on the disease in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Black Science Researchers Making a Difference in the Community

As seen throughout society this year, especially, Black Lives Matter Movements have gained a lot of support and attention. Not only is this movement present in everyday life, but also more specifically the science and education world. As shared in this article from Science News, many Black scientists are using their experience and knowledge to fight for diversity and equity in science, especially Deja Perkins, Raven Baxter, Brian Nord, Angeline Dukes, and Gary Hoover. 

Urban Ecologist, Deja Perkins of the University of North Carolina is the president of BlackAFinStem and a co-organizer of #BlackBirdersWeek. She was inspired to act when another member of BlackAFinStem, Christian Cooper, was verbally harassed in Central Park for the color of his skin while taking part in bird watching and research. Following this incident, BlackAFinStem was created to bring awareness to Black people’s experience in the outdoors and those who have had unpleasant experiences while working in the field. Although, since the beginning of BlackAFinStem, more and more organizations have been looking to hire many members of its workshops, presentations, and development, Perkins believes that gatekeeping could become a barrier for long term change. 

Another notable Black scientist is Raven Baxter. She is a science education graduate from the University of Buffalo who founded @BlackinScienceComm. She founded this in order to create a safe space for other Black scientists to share their voices and to encourage them to use their voices to advocate for justice. She mentions that one larger importance is for generations to come and in hope of alleviating that feeling of imposter syndrome, “the product of not feeling like you belong because you don’t see anybody like you in your field. So you’re doing well and you’re succeeding, but you feel like you’re an imposter because the narrative that’s been pushed for so long is that we’re not in these fields or that we don’t do well in these fields. But that’s not true.” Especially in this past year, Baxter, has successfully created a place where scientists alike can uplift others in hope of making the science field a better place.

Angelina Dukes is a Neuroscience graduate student from the University of Irvine, California who founded and resides as president of @BlackInNeuro. In her department, she was only one of two Black women, which she felt at times very segregated. With that, there were no Black Faculty members which she describes as, “emotionally and mentally draining”, so the need for a community that would understand and uplift others drove the creation of BlackInNeuro. The success of this platform allowed for many scientists to connect with each other and Dukes believes that because, “ There aren’t a lot of Black people in faculty positions. [They] have the energy and the drive to build a community and hopefully retain more of us in these fields so we can get those faculty positions.”

Overall, many scientists are working toward making not only make the science field a more inclusive place, but all society as well. These few people have created very influential platforms that have already begun to make others feel more safe and comfortable in their field and will continue to do so in the future. 









Dr. Warren Washington changed the trajectory of Climate Change Research

Dr. Warren M. Washington is one of the world’s most influential climate scientists.

Born in 1936, in Portland, Oregon, Washington grew up interested in science from a very young age. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in physics and a master’s degree in meteorology from Oregon State University, and then his doctorate in meteorology from Pennsylvania State University. In 1963, he joined NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research) as a research scientist.

During his first few years at NCAR, Washington helped create one of the first computer models to examine the earth’s climate. In the past, scientists merely theorized about and observed the weather to make predictions. However, Washington has said that this new model “shows the basic change of seasons, the change of day/night, temperature and winds.” It also helps make long-term projections about future weather patterns by collecting and graphing weather data. This climate model also contributed to the massive rise in awareness of climate change.

Dr. Washington told Business Insider in a 2019 interview, “Keep in mind that we’re the first generation that sees climate change in human history.” “Most climate change has been us going in and out of ice ages over thousands of years. Now we’re seeing things happen over tens of years.” The rapid climate change allowed for a lot of weather data to be had, which Washington and his team used in the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. This data ultimately determined that the increase in industrialization and technology has directly impacted our environment. Though this discovery may appear obvious in hindsight, this was a groundbreaking revelation at the time that led Dr. Washington and his team to the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. 

This image depicts some of the aspects of climate change that have occurred due to humans. Our “human fingerprints” have resulted in global warming, more fossil fuels in the ocean and air, and much more. I often get caught up in the misconception that climate change is not just global warming but so much more.

One very significant development that came from this model was the ability to study hurricanes and how they have changed over time. Washington’s computer model helped him discover a positive feedback loop between the warming ocean and atmospheric temperatures, creating a greater hurricane strength. A positive feedback loop is one that brings something further away from its target setpoint. In this case, as industrialization and the advancement of technology continue to allow greenhouse gases to warm up the atmosphere and the ocean, the rising heat of the ocean causes stronger hurricanes. Because the sea continues to get hotter, the storms continue to grow stronger, bringing the hurricane strength further and further from its target set point. The other type of feedback loop is a negative feedback loop, where a feedback loop brings something closer to its target set point. An example of this would be how humans regulate their body temperature by shivering or sweating to heat up or cool down, respectively. 

Throughout his career, Warren Washington has even gone on to earn the National Medal of Science by Barack Obama, served on commissions for climate change, became the president of the American Meteorological Society. In 2020, at 83 years old, he won the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement. 

Not only does Washington’s model continue to be one of the most innovative and influential models in climate change studies, but he continues to be a role model for generations of students regardless of their background. Washington has mentored many students to pursue a science career through the NCAR SOARS program (Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science). In 1999, Washington even won the Dr. Charles Anderson Award from the American Meteorological Society for mentoring and fostering a diverse and passionate community of young scientists toward success. 

Washington is just one of many Black scientists who has curated innovative inventions that will benefit us for centuries to come. I find it fascinating that without his innovative research of climate change, the way we view our own effects on the world could be entirely different, possibly leading the climate to be even more extreme than it already is.

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