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Isiah M. Warner

Chemistry professor and research chemist, Isiah M. Warner was born in DeQuincy, Louisiana, on July 20, 1946 to Humphrey and Erma Warner. He developed an interest in science and mathematics early on and conducted his first experiment by drinking kerosene to see why it created light. Warner graduated as valedictorian of his class from Bunkie, Louisiana's Carver High School in 1964. Warner's interest in chemistry was ignited after participating in a summer program at Southern University in Baton Rouge during high school. He went on to earn his B.S. degree in chemistry in 1968 from the same intuition, and went to work as a technician for Battelle Northwest, a private company in the state of Washington that contracted with the Atomic Energy Commission. Warner earned his Ph.D. degree in analytical chemistry from the University of Washington in 1977.

From 1977 to 1982, Warner served as assistant professor of chemistry at Texas A&M University. He was the first African American on the chemistry faculty there. After five years, he achieved tenure and was promoted to associate professor. While at Texas A&M, he researched fluorescent spectroscopy. Warner then joined the faculty at Emory University where he was promoted to full professor in 1986. He served as the Samuel Candler Dobbs professor of chemistry from 1987 until 1992. During the 1988-89 academic year, Warner went on leave to the National Science Foundation where he served as program officer for analytical and surface chemistry. In 1992, Warner joined the faculty at Louisiana State University as the Philip W. West Professor of analytical and environmental chemistry and was promoted to chair of the chemistry department, vice-chancellor for strategic initiatives, and Boyd professor. At LSU, Warner focused his research on chiral drugs and natural drug derivatives.

Throughout his career, Warner published over 230 articles in revered journals, has given hundreds of presentations, and is the holder of five patents. In addition to his own speaking and publishing activities, Warner has chaired over thirty doctoral theses and mentored many students. Warner’s awards included the CASE Louisiana Teacher of the Year Award in 2000; the 2000 LSU Distinguished Faculty Award; and the 1997 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring from President Clinton.

Isiah M. Warner and his wife, Della Blount Warner have three children, Isiah, Jr., Edward and Chideha.

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George Washington Carver Elementary School

George Washington Carver High School

Southern University and Agricultural and Mechanical College

Washington State University Tri-Cities

University of Washington

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National Science Foundation



Favorite Vacation Destination

Africa; Europe

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I Am Isiah Warner, And I Am A Country Boy From Bunkie, Louisiana.

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Baton Rouge


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Thai Food

Short Description

Chemistry professor and research chemist Isiah M. Warner (1946 - ) is the first African American vice-chancellor for strategic initiatives at Louisiana State University. He has published over 230 chemistry research articles.


Battelle Northwest

Texas A&M University

Emory University

Louisiana State University

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Timing Pairs

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Isiah Warner's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Isiah Warner shares his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Isiah Warner talks about his maternal ancestors

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Isiah Warner talks about his mother and grandmother

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Isiah Warner talks about his father's side of the family

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Isiah Warner talks about his childhood in Bunkie, Louisiana

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Isiah Warner talks about the sights, sounds, and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Isiah Warner talks about Carver High School and Elementary School

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Isiah Warner talks about his interest in chemistry in high school

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Isiah Warner talks about the atmosphere at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in the 1960s

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Isiah Warner talks about segregation laws in high school and college athletics

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Isiah Warner talks about his chemistry professors at Southern University

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Isiah Warner talks about campus activism and avoiding the draft

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Isiah Warner recalls how he met his wife

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Isiah Warner talks about his adjustment to an integrated environment at Battelle Northwest

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Isiah Warner talks about his graduate studies at the University of Washington

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Isiah Warner talks about his faculty positions at Texas A&M University and Emory University

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Isiah Warner explains his research in fluorescent spectroscopy

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Isiah Warner explains his research in chiral drug molecules as a faculty member at Louisiana State University

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Isiah Warner talks about his initiatives with chemistry students at Louisiana State University

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Isiah Warner discusses African Americans in chemistry

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Isiah Warner responds to a question about entrepreneurship in chemistry

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Isiah Warner reflects on his life and shares his hopes for the black community







Isiah Warner talks about his faculty positions at Texas A&M University and Emory University
Isiah Warner explains his research in fluorescent spectroscopy
All right, well tell us about that. Were you one of the first blacks on that [Texas A&M] faculty?$$Oh, I was in chemistry. I was the first black ever on that faculty. And the way I ended up taking that position is the chair of the department was at a conference that I, when I was giving a lecture. And he was very impressed with my talk. Afterwards, another graduate student gave a talk, and he got stuck with a question, and I helped answer the question. So all that made him very impressed. And so he went back, said, look we've got this position open. We've got to interview this young man. He's applied for this position.$$Okay, well, how were you received there? I mean did people--did they expect you not to know as much because you're a black or what did they, how did they or did it matter to them?$$Again, I wasn't quite as aggressive as the typical person. So, for example, when I negotiated my equipment and all that, the, there was an Asian guy, who was Chinese, took a liking to me, said, "You'd better get it in writing." I said, "For what?" He said, "Just get in writing." I said, well, we shook hands, you know (laughter). He said, "Get it writing!" And sure enough, that was useful later on. But the first year, there was, a member of the National Academy comes in. He brings in two assistant professors, takes over all the space, you know. And I didn't have any space. I was sitting in someone else's office for a year, no laboratory. And finally I had to pull up this letter saying I want my equipment and finally got some space. And those two assistant professors he brought in ended up being denied tenure. And I was given tenure. And so, in the end, things worked out best for me. And if it were not for that chair, I wouldn't be in academics today. He was a big factor in my life.$$What's his name?$$His name was Arthur Martelle (ph.). He's passed away, was it last year? Yeah, he passed away last year.$$Okay.$$He built the chemistry department at Texas A&M [University, College Station, Texas] into what it is today.$$Okay, how long was it before you got tenure there at Texas A&M?$$Five years. I got early tenure, a year earlier than a typical person, mostly because other schools were trying to court me like Purdue [University, West Lafayette, Indiana] was trying to recruit me. And so they moved up my tenure early, but I didn't stay there. Once I got tenure I just moved to Emory University [Atlanta, Georgia] because the place was so large, I decided I wanted to go to a smaller school. And Texas A&M was the largest chemistry department in the world. I mean they have about eighty, full-time equivalent faculty members. So I moved to Emory University. I applied for a position at Emory University and moved there. They had about twenty faculty.$$Now, that's in Atlanta [Georgia], right?$$Right, in Atlanta.$$Now, how did you like that?$$I liked it much better, smaller department. But I found out, no matter where you go in academics, there's always politics. So, and I'd been there for ten years when LSU [Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana] started trying to recruit me actively.$$Okay, so this is like, when did you go to Emory? Was it '82 [1982]?$$Eighty-two [1982], right.$$I'm trying to calculate, okay, '82 [1982]. So you were there for ten years--$$Right.$$--until 1992?$$Right.$All right, now, when you were there, I mean, were you able to engage in any independent research or anything?$$Oh, yeah, I did at Texas A&M [University, College Station, Texas]. That's a requirement in those kinds of schools. Texas A&M, Emory [University, Atlanta, Georgia], and LSU [Louisiana State University], it's a requirement. If you're tenure tracked, you engage in research. So I've been actively involved in research from the time I was at Texas A&M.$$Okay, I'm a chemical ignoramus myself, but there are gonna be people watching this that know some chemistry probably and they wanna know what you were doing. So if you would explain it and don't worry about the terminology going over my head because (laughter).$$Okay, when I left graduate school, one of the things I developed was a new instrument for measuring fluorescent spectroscopy. Fluorescence has to do with, you shine light on a molecule, and molecules give you off a different light. Both of those lights are characteristics of the molecule, the light that's absorbed and the light that's given off. And so I developed an instrument that would measure all the light that was absorbed and given off simultaneously for all molecules at a given time. And so when I left school, I started applying that instrument, I developed another instrument similar to it and started applying it to various applications. So that was the focus of my research a lot of time, using that instrument to identify molecules. In fact, it was used, it was a video camera really that I used as a detector since the image was two dimensional. I would have a two-dimensional representation of the molecule, and it would be the light that was given off as a function of exciting wavelength and emitting wavelength. And that image could be plotted, you know, as a, just as a television camera image in two dimensions. And so I could use, apply that to identifying molecules and pollutants like poly-aromatic hydrocarbons and different kinds of molecules. That's what I, that was my first area of research.$$Okay, and that's at Texas A&M?$$That's Texas A&M. And I continued that until I, after I got to Emory also, developing new kinds of applications, identifying bacteria, using this instrumentation and fingerprinting, phytoplankton in the ocean. You know, there were all kinds of applications that I've developed over the years for this technique.$$Now, what's a phytoplankton?$$Well, plants that are growing out in the ocean. So that was an oceanography application that we had.