Black History Month: George Edward Alcorn, Jr. – Credited For The Development Of The Imaging X-Ray Spectrometer

Black History Month: George Edward Alcorn, Jr. – Credited For The Development Of The Imaging X-Ray Spectrometer
George Edward Alcorn, Jr. has a resume as impressive as those of some of the greatest black inventors that have ever walked on the face of the planet; the likes of Lewis Latimer, Valerie Thomas, Patricia Era Bath and Amos Harold among others who have had great contributions to  science and technology.

He was born on 22nd March 1940 to parents who were working class citizens. Alcorn was able to attend decent schools where he showcased his gifts when it comes to sports and academics. He was a good performer when it comes to books and sports. This lead to him winning an academic scholarship to the Occidental College located in Pasadena, California. At Occidental he undertook a B.A in Physics, graduating in 1962. Afterwards he proceeded to Howard University where he earned his master’s program degree in Nuclear Physics in 1963, from the same institution he earned his Ph.D. in Atomic and Molecular Physics in the year 1967.

In his years in higher learning institutions, Alcorn worked for North American Rockwell’s Space Division as a research engineer. Where he showcased his impressive abilities in conducting computer analysis for launch trajectories and the orbital mechanics for the company’s missiles: such as the Nova, Titan I & II and Saturn IV missiles. Upon completion of his doctoral degree, Alcorn got a job as a senior scientist, first with Philco-Ford, then Perking-Elmer, then IBM and in 1978 he finally got employed by NASA.

It is during his tenure as a senior scientist at NASA, that he developed the Imaging X-Ray Spectrometer. This device helps scientist identify a given material by making an x-ray spectrum of it; thus allowing them to examine the material visually. This technology became invaluable when it came to identifying materials which can’t be broken down physically. He got a patent for his “Method for fabricating an imaging x-ray spectrometer” in the year 1984. He was also cited for his invention’s ability to use thermomigration of aluminum. For these great technological feet, he was given the NASA/GSFC (Goddard Space Flight Center) Award as the Inventor of the Year.

Although the climax of Alcorn’s career is marked by the invention of the “Method for fabricating an imaging x-ray spectrometer” he has more than 20 other high profiled inventions to his name, and more than 8 US and International patents. Some of these are mentioned below:

  • “GaAs Schottky barrier photo-responsive device and method of fabrication” whose U.S Patent Number 4543442 was issued in 1985.
  • “Imaging X-ray spectrometer” whose U.S Patent Number 4472728 was issued in 1984.
  • “Dense dry etched multi-level metallurgy with non-overlapped vias” whose U.S. Patent Number 4289834 was issued in 1981.
  • “Hardened photoresist master image mask process” with the U.S. Patent Number 4201800 was issued in 1980.
  • “Method for forming dry etched multi-level metallurgy with non-overlapped vias” with the U.S. Patent Number 4172004 which was issued in 1979.

Some of the above mentioned inventions, Alcorn invented in conjunction with other great scientists. Nonetheless his great contributions attracted numerous honors and awards from NASA that included: NASA medal (1984) in recognition for his role in helping recruiting minorities and helping out small businesses, GSFC – Inventor of the Year (1984) for his invention of the first Imaging Spectrometer; Thermomigration of Aluminum among others. He also got several awards and recognitions from IBM which included: Innovator’s Gold Jewelry, First & Second Plateau Cash Award for Inventions and he was cited twice by the IBM Chairman of Board for his creative contribution to the IBM’s growth and progress.

George Edward Alcorn, Jr. definitely goes down in the as one of the best African American inventors whose contribution to science and technology became invaluable to the world.

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