10 Black Scientists You Should Know

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David Harold Blackwell
Statistician David Harold Blackwell, Ph.D. was the first tenured black professor at the University of California-Berkeley and the first black person admitted to the National Academy of Sciences. UC Berkeley
Statistician David Harold Blackwell, Ph.D. was the first tenured black professor at the University of California-Berkeley and the first black person admitted to the National Academy of Sciences. UC Berkeley

David Harold Blackwell was one of the world's most notable statisticians, but as a child he didn't particularly like math. That was until he met the right teacher who opened a numerical world to him.

Blackwell, born in 1919, grew up in southern Illinois and by 16 was enrolled at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. At 22, he graduated from his home state university with a doctoral degree in mathematics and then studied at Princeton. Although Blackwell aspired to a teaching position, racial bias closed doors; he was denied posts at Princeton and at the University of California at Berkeley. However, he was offered a position at Howard University. (Berkeley later offered Blackwell a teaching job, and he became the university's first black tenured professor in 1954).

While at Howard, Blackwell studied game theory and how it applied to decision-making in the government and private sectors during summers at RAND Corp. He became the United States' leading expert on the subject, authoring a widely respected textbook on game theory, as well as research that resulted in several theorems named for him. One such theory, which explains how to turn rough guesses into on-target estimates, is known as the Rao-Blackwell theorem and remains an integral part of modern economics. In 1965, he became the first African-American to be inducted into the National Academy of Sciences. He died in 2010 [sources: Sanders, Sorkin].