Highlights in U.S. Science History

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Highlights in U.S. Science History

In order to put the experiences of African American scientists into historical perspective, it is important to remember that the field of science as a career path for large numbers of people is a relatively modern phenomenon.

Although many science historians date the beginning of the modern, Western scientific revolution as 1543 -- the year Copernicus developed his heliocentric theory and Anderas Vesalius published his study of human anatomy -- scientific study involved very few people until recently. In fact, some science historians estimate that approximately 90 percent of all scientists who have existed in recorded history have worked in the second half of the twentieth century.

It should be noted that most scientific histories focus on the Western contributions to science. Efforts to incorporate the contributions of scholars from other parts of the world into this history have only recently begun.

Highlights in U.S. scientific history, gleaned from a variety of sources -- including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the 1991 book by Alexander Hellemans and Bryan Bunch, Timetable of Science -- include:

- The United States' first scientific society, the American Philosophical Society, was founded in Philadelphia in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin.

- The nation's first school of science and engineering was opened in 1824 and is now known as Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

- The term "scientist" was coined in 1833 at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

- The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) was founded in 1848. Its first African American member, W.E.B. DuBois, joined in 1900 and in 1956 the AAAS Council adopted a resolution requiring that the association's annual meetings be held only in places that were free of racial segregation.

- The nation's first science Ph.D. was awarded in 1861. Prior to that, students who wished to pursue formal study beyond the master's degree generally traveled to Germany, where doctoral programs were already established. …