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Wesley Harris

Aerospace engineer Wesley L. Harris was born in Richmond, Virginia on October 29, 1 941. His parents, William Harris and Rosa Harris, worked in Richmond’s tobacco factories. As a child, Harris was intrigued by airplanes and learned to build different models. In the fourth grade, he won an essay contest about career goals with a paper on how he wanted to become a test pilot. After receiving his B.S. degree with honors in aerospace engineering from the University of Virginia in 1964, Harris enrolled at Princeton University and graduated from there with his M.S. degree in aerospace and mechanical sciences in 1966 and his Ph.D. degree in aerospace and mechanical sciences 1968.

After completing his Ph.D. at Princeton, Harris taught at the University of Virginia and at Southern University before joining the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1972 where he served as a professor of aeronautics and astronautics. He established MIT’s first Office of Minority Education in 1975 in order to help retain minority students and improve their performance. In 1985, Harris was appointed Dean of the School of Engineering at the University of Connecticut; and from 1990 to 1995, he served as vice president and chief administrative officer at the University of Tennessee Space Institute and then as associate administrator for aeronautics NASA. In 2003, Harris was named head of the department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT in 2003.

Harris’ many honors and achievements include serving as chair and member of various boards and committees of the National Research Council, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Army Science Board, and several state governments. He is a Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the American Helicopter Society. The National Academy of Engineering elected Harris as a Fellow for contributions to understanding of helicopter rotor noise, for encouragement of minorities in engineering, and for service to the aeronautical industry.

Wesley L. Harris was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 25, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.004

Sex

Male

Interview Date

4/26/2013

Last Name

Harris

Maker Category
Occupation
Schools

Princeton University

University of Virginia

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Wesley

Birth City, State, Country

Richmond

HM ID

HAR38

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Virginia

Favorite Vacation Destination

Home

Favorite Quote

The Greatest Gift Is To Give.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Massachusetts

Birth Date

10/29/1941

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Boston

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Steak (Rib Eye)

Short Description

Aerospace engineer Wesley Harris (1941 - ) was head of the department of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT. He was also elected as a fellow of the National Academy of Engineering for contributions to the understanding of helicopter rotor noise, for encouragement of minorities in engineering and for service to the aeronautical industry.

Employment

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

UTSI

University of Connecticut

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

University of Virginia

Southern University

Harris Analytics and Planning, Inc.

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Wesley Harris' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Wesley Harris lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Wesley Harris describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Wesley Harris talks about the occupations of his mother's side of the family

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Wesley Harris talks about his mother and his maternal grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Wesley Harris describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Wesley Harris describes his father's restaurant

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Wesley Harris describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Wesley Harris talks about his siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Wesley Harris talks about his twin brother William Harris pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Wesley Harris talks about his twin brother William Harris pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Wesley Harris describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Wesley Harris describes the sights, sounds, and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Wesley Harris describes walking through the white district to get to school as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Wesley Harris talks about his mentors in school

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Wesley Harris talks about his high school science fair project

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Wesley Harris talks about his aspiration as a fourth grader to be a test pilot

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Wesley Harris talks about the University of Virginia-pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Wesley Harris describes his time at the University of Virginia-pt 2

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Wesley Harris talks about his mentors at the University of Virginia

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Wesley Harris describes the group of African American students at the University of Virginia

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Wesley Harris describes his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement at the University of Virginia pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Wesley Harris describes his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement at the University of Virginia pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Wesley Harris talks about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Wesley Harris talks about the 1963 March on Washington

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Wesley Harris describes the impact of the U.S. space program on his education

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Wesley Harris describes his decision to attend Princeton University for graduate school

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Wesley Harris talks about his mentor at Princeton University

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Wesley Harris talks about anti-Semitism in Ivy League schools

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Wesley Harris describes his doctoral research

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Wesley Harris describes how he was recruited by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Wesley Harris describes the findings of his doctoral dissertation

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Wesley Harris talks about his time at Southern University pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Wesley Harris talks about his time at Southern University pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Wesley Harris explains why he left Southern University pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Wesley Harris explains why he left Southern University pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Wesley Harris talks about his time as a professor at the University of Virginia

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Wesley Harris talks about his children and his first wife

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Wesley Harris describes being a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Wesley Harris describes his research on helicopter rotor acoustics

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Wesley Harris talks about his research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Wesley Harris describes his work on coastal ocean radar with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Wesley Harris talks about receiving the Irwin Sizer Award

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Wesley Harris describes his time at the University of Connecticut

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Wesley Harris describes his time at the University of Tennessee Space Institute

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Wesley Harris talks about the University of Tennessee Space Institute

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Wesley Harris describes being an associate administrator at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Wesley Harris describes being an associate administrator at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Wesley Harris reflects on his work at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Wesley Harris describes why he left the National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Wesley Harris talks about the Lean Aerospace Initiative and Lean Sustainment Initiative

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Wesley Harris talks about becoming a member of the National Academy of Engineering

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Wesley Harris describes his time at Arizona State University

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Wesley Harris talks about the aeronautics and astronautics department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Wesley Harris talks about Leon Trilling

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Wesley Harris describes the James Shirley incident at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Wesley Harris talks about the flight tests of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Wesley Harris provides his predictions on the direction of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Wesley Harris talks about STEM education in the United States

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Wesley Harris talks about his research on the fluid dynamics of blood flow pt. 1

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Wesley Harris talks about his research on the fluid dynamics of blood flow pt. 2

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Wesley Harris describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Wesley Harris reflects on his life

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Wesley Harris reflects on his legacy

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Wesley Harris talks about his family

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - Wesley Harris talks about his involvement in football during high school pt. 1

Tape: 9 Story: 8 - Wesley Harris talks about his involvement in football during high school pt. 2

Tape: 9 Story: 9 - Wesley Harris talks about how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$7

DAStory

1$4

DATitle
Wesley Harris talks about his high school science fair project
Wesley Harris reflects on his work at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Transcript
You were talking about this cloud chamber in the break, but how did you build that? I mean you say kids ask you today, how did you do it without the internet, right?$$Right. So the idea was that you wanted to observe, in my case, the trajectory of alpha particles and so how do you do that? Alpha particles are fairly large and high energy so if you have a, an environment where they can collide and you visibly can see the collision or the results of the collision then you could in fact track them. So if you had in those days these old radioactive Rayon watches, you could clip off a piece of the dial and that would serve as your alpha particle. To get the condensement atmosphere you build a box that was insulated, put in that box dry ice, okay, and on top you would put a damp wet cloth which when it interacts with the dry ice would form a cloud. And then you look at the, look through the top, alpha particles projecting through the cloud coming down, you see the collisions and you could track it. So the idea was to generate the correct environment. And the cloud chamber is what we called it in those days, still call it a cloud chamber. But you had to build a box, put ice in there, dry ice, not water ice but it had to be very cold and get the condensation, get the alpha particles, there it was. So, but Eloise Bose Washington, who is this woman, who is she, why do I remember her name so distinctly, why do I remember her even more so than Edmonds and Street and Mrs. Hartley and even Judon? Eloise Bose Washington one of the rare black women that went north in the 40s [1940s] to the University of Pennsylvania [Philadelphia, Pennsylvania] to earn a masters degree in physics, you may ask well why in the hell would a black woman go north in the 40s [1940s] for a masters degree in physics and come back to the south? What could possibly be on her mind? What was she going to do? What job was open to her? None, other than the classroom, but she had a degree in physics. So the blessing was that I was one of her students. Not only was she a good teacher but she had the foundation. She knew physics okay, and therein lies the success. Therein lies the opportunity. Therein lies the greatest gift, all right, that Eloise Bose Washington was there or I was there when she was, let's put it that way, a tremendous spirit, a short woman, rather wide, rather big, again the tough love. "Wesley, you will go to the University of Virginia, okay?" And she said that because she never forgave herself for the third place finish at the University of Virginia. We had won first in the black community, the black competition and then she said "Wesley, we'll go to University of Virginia [Charlottesville, Virginia] with the cloud chamber and we finished third and she always thought she was the reason for it.$$Hmm.$$Yeah, she did. She--so I said "Yes, Ms. Washington, I will go. But tell me why do you want me to go?" She said, "Two reasons." She says, "Wesley, you are black and there's no way those white folks up there would ever misinterpret who you are whenever they see you." Second, she says, "You will be successful and that's very important to us that you succeed at the University of Virginia." Okay.$$So this is, I just want to go back to that for a second cause she's saying something really significant here because it's often said when someone, some African American succeeds that it's because he's part white or something, you know, he's a lighter guy and that sort of thing.$$Right.$$So she's actually saying, she's focusing on your color?$$Yeah.$$She's saying--$$Yeah.$$--you're the perfect person to--$$Yes, yes.$$--you'll really shake things up to let people know what our capacity is cause you're unmistakably--$$Right, yeah that was a part of her calculation, make no doubt about it, yes, right.$$Okay.$$Because in her generation and also in mine--$$[BRIEF INTERRUPTION]$$Okay, all right. So--$$Yeah, so Eloise Washington did want to make that point that it was about demonstrating scholarship by, for and about black folks in a way that's unmistakable, that it is of this, it is of black folks. And that was something that she wanted me to understand that that's the--remember now just a rising senior in high school and she made that point very, very clear, "You are black and they will not misinterpret that and you will be successful."$$Okay.$$So that's Eloise Bose Washington.$While at NASA [National Aeronautics and Space Administration], you were elected a fellow of the American Helicopter Society?$$Yes, oh yes. Yes, that's--okay, so the rotorcraft community obviously since the work I did here at MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts] in main rotor acoustics has always been a part of my aero portfolio. In a lot of ways, rotorcraft was a stepchild. Most of NASA's effort was focused on fixed wing aircraft. The U.S. Military, especially the U.S. Army has always needed better, more efficient helicopters. So working with a man named George Stingley, we developed a joint program involving NASA and DOD [Department of Defense], three-headed program after-anyway, involving the rotorcraft industry to share, to develop and share common technology. And that, no one had done that before to bring those four, those three players, NASA, the rotorcraft industry and the U.S. Army together to solve common research problems related to rotorcraft where NASA put in money, DOD, U.S. Army put in money and the rotorcraft industry put in money. So that was bringing together those three stakeholders in a way to find a common solution to common problems and that's, was, I guess enough for the Helicopter Society to say, "Make this guy a fellow."$$Okay, okay. And also you were, you received the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal. I guess be-- is that just before you left?$$Yeah.$$Okay.$$I think those things just, you just breathe long enough you get them. I, I attach no significance to those things at all.$$Okay. So when you look back at your stint at NASA, what are you the most proud of?$$High-speed civil transport, that technology, fascinating stuff, fascinating stuff.$$Okay, okay. Now--$$There's something else too.$$Okay.$$Most Americans know of the Russia-U.S. Space Treaty. At the same time that was developed there was a treaty or an agreement on aeronautics okay? So a group of us went to Moscow [Russia] several times to develop the document that Chernomyrdin [Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin] on the Russian side and Vice President [Al] Gore on the U.S. side signed, so-called agreement in aeronautics, a similar one in space, okay?$$Okay, so this is signed by Al Gore the vice president?$$Right and the vice premier Chernomyrdin of, for Russia.$$Okay.$$Okay, so I led that delegation. A member of that delegation was Woodrow Whitlow and many others as well, but that was an interesting, exciting time, couldn't leave the hotels at night. We were certain our bags were always searched when we left, riots on the Moscow subway. In the early 90s [1990]s, they just had collapsed the Soviet Union so you saw abject poverty in Russia, I mean unbelievable poverty, buildings with holes in them, government buildings, no toilets, no heat in the winter.$$Yeah, that's really critical in Russia.$$Oh goodness, yes. We were in meetings all day with overcoats on and gloves.$$In a government facility?$$Yeah, this is (Saugi?) [ph.], that's--this was their corresponding, this was their facility corresponding to our Tullahoma [Tennessee]. We have AEDC, the Arnold Engineering Development Center, the world's largest aerospace test facility, they had something called (Saugi?), comparable with no heat, holes in the walls, grass never cut.$$Yeah.$$That was Russia in the early 90s [1990s]. Not like that now but they had a really down period man. We were told to do this by the way, to develop this agreement not by NASA but by the State Department because they didn't want the Russian scientists to find their way to Iran or North Korea or some other place that would cause trouble later.

Demetrius Venable

Physicist and physics professor Demetrius D. Venable was born on October 11, 1947 in Powhatan, Virginia to Josephine Viola Bell Venable and James Bernard Venable. He attended Pocahontas High School where Venable’s father, who was his high school math teacher, helped spark Venable’s interest in math and science. He received his B.S. degree in physics from Virginia State College in 1970. Continuing with his studies, he earned his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in physics from American University in 1972 and 1974, respectively.

Upon completion of his Ph.D. program, Venable was hired by IBM-East Fishkill where he studied semi-conductor measurement technology as a senior associate engineer. After two years with the company, Venable returned to academia at Saint Paul’s College as an assistant professor of physics and director of the Cooperative Physics Program. In 1978, he joined the faculty of Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) as an assistant professor of physics. One of Venable’s major accomplishments at Hampton was his instrumental role in founding the doctorate program in physics. He held numerous positions at Hampton, ultimately becoming executive vice president and provost in 1994. When he moved to Howard University in 1995, he was named the chairman of the department of physics and astronomy, a post that he held until 2007. During his tenure at Howard University, Venable helped create the interdisciplinary doctorate program in atmospheric sciences. He also was instrumental in establishing atmospheric physics research at the Howard University Beltsville Research Campus and the Raman Lidar Program. With a specialty in optical physics, Venable has studied water vapor mixing ratios and atmospheric dynamics to further his group’s goal of weather and climate predictability.

Throughout his career, Venable has received numerous recognitions including the National Aeronautic and Space Administration’s Distinguished Public Service Medal and the White House Initiative Science and Technology Advisory Committee’s Faculty Award for Excellence in Science and Technology. Venable served as chairman of the American Institute of Physics’ Advisory Committee on Education from 1998 to 2001 and he is a charter fellow of the National Society of Black Physicists. He has served on various boards and committees at the state and national levels including on the U. S. Department of Energy's Fusion Energy Advisory Committee, The American Association of Physics Teachers, The Virginia Academy of Science, The Southeastern Universities Research Association, The Virginia Aerospace Business Roundtable and The National Physical Sciences Consortium. Venable is married Geri Turner. They have raised two children, Juanita and Jessica.

Demetrius Venable was interviewed by on June 14, 2012.

Accession Number

A2012.133

Sex

Male

Interview Date

6/14/2012

Last Name

Venable

Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

D.

Schools

Virginia State University

American University

Columbia University

First Name

Demetrius

Birth City, State, Country

Powhatan

HM ID

VEN01

Favorite Season

Summer

State

Virginia

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

Knowledge Is A Value In Itself, It Need Serve No Other Purpose In The World.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Birth Date

10/11/1947

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Seafood

Short Description

Physicist and physics professor Demetrius Venable (1947 - ) was instrumental in the founding of the doctorate program in physics at Hampton University. He was also influential in establishing the atmospheric physics research at the Howard University Beltsville Research Campus and the Raman Lidar Program.

Employment

IBM

Saint Paul's College

Hampton University

Howard University

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Demetrius Venable's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Demetrius Venable lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Demetrius Venable describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Demetrius Venable describes his family's hometown in Powhatan, Virginia

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Demetrius Venable talks about his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Demetrius Venable describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Demetrius Venable talks about his father

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Demetrius Venable talks about his father's service in World War II

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Demetrius Venable talks about his parents and his siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Demetrius Venable describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Demetrius Venable describes his childhood home

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Demetrius Venable describes the sights, sounds and smells of growing up

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Demetrius Venable talks about his family's involvement in church

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Demetrius Venable describes his childhood interest in math and science

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Demetrius Venable describes his experience in school

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Demetrius Venable talks about his growing up

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Demetrius Venable describes the integration of schools in Powhatan, Virginia

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Demetrius Venable talks about his experience at St. Frances de Sales Girls School and St. Emma Military Academy

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Demetrius Venable describes his experiences at Virginia State College

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Demetrius Venable talks about his decision to major in physics at Virginia State University

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Demetrius Venable describes his activities at Virginia State University

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Demetrius Venable talks about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Demetrius Venable describes his employment opportunities as a physics major

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Demetrius Venable describes his choice of American University for graduate school

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Demetrius Venable talks about his African American mentors in physics

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Demetrius Venable describes his Ph.D. dissertation research at American University

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Demetrius Venable describes how he met his wife

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Demetrius Venable discusses African Americans in physics

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Demetrius Venable describes his experience at IBM and his decision to transition into teaching

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Demetrius Venable describes his experience at St. Paul's College in Virginia

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Demetrius Venable describes his research at Brooks Air Force Base and NASA Langley Research Center

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Demetrius Venable describes his experience at Hampton University

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Demetrius Venable describes his efforts to establish a Ph.D. program in physics at Hampton University

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Demetrius Venable describes his research at Howard University

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Demetrius Venable talks about the success of minority students in Howard University's atmospheric sciences program

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Demetrius Venable discusses the scientific evidence for global warming

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Demetrius Venable talks about the Ph.D. program in physics at Howard University

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Demetrius Venable describes his research contributions in optical physics

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Demetrius Venable describes his goals for future research

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Demetrius Venable reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Demetrius Venable describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Demetrius Venable describes his family and his personal life

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Demetrius Venable describes what it takes to become a physicist

Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Demetrius Venable describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$5

DAStory

1$2

DATitle
Demetrius Venable talks about his African American mentors in physics
Demetrius Venable describes his research at Howard University
Transcript
Tell us, first of all, before we go into American University, who is your mentor at Howard? Who is the--$$Arthur Thorpe. And Arthur Thorpe is still on the faculty here today, okay. So this is 1966, I mean 1970, right. My, Dr. [James] Davenport, who I spoke about earlier, was a graduate of Howard [Howard University in Washington, District of Columbia], and he and Dr. Thorpe were colleagues here. So Dr. Thorpe actually would come down to Virginia State [Virginia State University in Petersburg, Virginia] and served as my senior thesis advisor when I was at Virginia State. So he helped out a lot with developing and strengthening the program down there. You may have heard of John Hunter. John Hunter was one of, probably the third African American to get a Ph.D. in physics. And John Hunter established the program in physics at Virginia State. And that program went on to produce a lot of well-known people who became physicists later on. Dr. Branson was a graduate of that program. And Dr. Branson was here as chairman of the physics department at Howard.$$That's Herman Branson.$$Herman Branson, uh-huh, was a student of John Hunter's.$$He was president of Central State [Central State University, Wilberforce, Ohio].$$President of Central State, right. I sometimes tell a story about, you know, those connections there. You go from John Hunter to Herman Branson to Arthur Thorpe and then to me, you know, so I can draw lines between us, right. And I tell my students that, you know, you need to put your name on there and put a line there and go to work at a, at a nice institution and, you know, send some folks along as well, make the line longer. But in any case, Arthur Thorpe was my mentor here at Howard. And he's been a real strong supporter of my entire career. He was instrumental in my coming back to work here, in fact. So, yeah, quite a good supporter.$Okay, so, now, so were you actually, were you seeking another spot or how did the Howard [University in Washington, District of Columbia] position--$$Well, you know, as I said, you know, I really didn't wanna be continuing to go up in administration. So Arthur Thorpe, again, came to me and said, look, you know, we need a chairman. This is an opportunity. Would you apply for it? And I said, yes, I'll apply for it, you know, as long as it means I can get back to doing research because I really couldn't do research and be vice president. It's just, just impossible to do that. So I said, yes, as long as I can get back to doing research, it's something that I would consider. So I put an application in, and they made me an offer.$$Okay, so you came over to Howard [University] in '95 [1995]?$$Ninety five [1995].$$Okay, all right.$$So I was at Hampton for seventeen years, and I was chairman and administrator there, and then I was, been at Howard, this is my seventeenth year at Howard.$$Okay, now, what have been--what have the years at Howard been like? Have you engaged basically in research?$$Yeah, well, I served as department chairman for, for twelve years here. Being a chairman is very different from being a vice president. I wanna say that first of all. That's like being a, just a regular part of the faculty, right. So, I spent a good fraction of my time developing research programs. My, my personal research has been focused around the, the laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland. Dr. Walter Lowe had done a lot, he spent a lot of time at (unclear) developing the facility out there--this is a facility that the university owned since the early '90s [1990s], I mean the early '70s [1970s]. And it was not a lot going on out there. Walter went out there and sort of renovated everything and got the lab back up and running for a project that he was doing in accelerator physics, synchrotron radiation with the Argonne Lab. So he spent a lot of time and effort and money and got the place back up and running. When Walter's project completed, he was building an accelerator that was gonna be moved to Chicago [Illinois]. So when it would move to Chicago, his activities at Beltsville were essentially completed. We started phasing in at about the time he was phasing out with the understanding of developing some laser physics activities. So we started by developing what's called a LIDAR [Light Detection and Ranging] facility. And that was primarily an effort on my part and Dr. Thorpe's part.$$Now, what was that? What was LIDAR--$$LIDAR is a technique where you use laser and you shine the laser into the atmosphere, and you study the light that is backscattered from the atmosphere, you know the laser light interact with particles and the molecules in the air. And some of the lights backscattered so you can detect it with a telescope. And you analyze the light that comes back into the telescope, and by analyzing the light that you collect, you are able to say what is in the atmosphere, and we were focusing on water vapor, although you can measure a lot of things. We were focusing on how much water vapor is in the atmosphere for us and how rapidly that water vapor concentration changed as a function of time and how that water vapor concentration changed as a function of altitude. So that's what we're using LIDAR for. So it had to do with efforts to do atmospheric studies. So I played a major role in developing--.$$And how do you spell the, that again--$$L-I-D-A-R. It's an acronym. It stands for light detection and ranging.$$Okay, light detection and ranging. Okay. So you've been, so this was established out at Beltsville.$$Um-hum, I started that in maybe '97 [1997], and, you know, maybe phasing over time. And as, in addition to that, the physics department was very much involved, the physics department here at Howard was very much involved in developing an interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in atmospheric science. So physics, chemistry and mechanical engineering were all involved in developing this interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in atmospheric science. So my work was one of the research components of that interdisciplinary job. We hired Dr. Alvert--Everett, I'm sorry, I'm getting a little tired, Everett Joseph here in physics, and Dr. Gregory Jenkins here in physics to work with that effort, Dr. Vernon Morris in chemistry and I think Dr. Sonya Smith, all of these were people involved in developing that effort. She was in mechanical engineering. So, so my part was a research component within that overall picture, and I was developing that at Beltsville. Beltsville, since then, from an atmospheric physics standpoint, has grown extensively. We now have a full array of measurement capabilities out there with respect to atmospheric measurements. And we're using this data to go into models for, primarily for climatology, looking at climate change.

Clayton W. Bates, Jr.

Electrical engineer and physicist Clayton W. Bates, Jr. was born on September 5, 1932 in New York City, where he attended elementary school at New York Public School 119 and middle school at New York Junior High School 43. Bates earned his high school diploma from the all-boys Brooklyn Technical High School in 1950 where he was a member of the baseball, basketball, and track teams. As a young boy, he also enjoyed playing baseball and basketball in his Harlem neighborhood where he lived with his mother and older sister, Barbara. Bates' parents, Arline and Clayton Bates, Sr., divorced when he was a young teenager. Bates' love affair with science and engineering began early; as a youngster he enjoyed building model planes and dreamed of becoming a pilot.

From 1950 to 1954, Bates attended Manhattan College on a full academic scholarship where he received his B.S. degree in electrical engineering. Bates went on to earn his M.S. degree in electrical engineering from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn. He then received a fellowship from Harvard University where he earned his second M.S. degree in electrical engineering in 1960. Bates went on to study at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri where he received his Ph.D. degree in physics in 1966.

Following graduation, Bates worked for several engineering and scientific companies including Varian Associates, AVCO, Sylvania Electric Products, the Ford Instrument Company, and RCA. His projects ranged from low-level light detection and x-ray image intensification to the design of the nuclear reactor controls of the first SEA WOLF, the second atomic powered submarine. In 1972, Bates left Varian and accepted a position in Stanford University’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering. Bates continued to work at Stanford for the next twenty-two years where he helped to organize the Society of Black Scientists and Engineers. In 1984, Bates accepted the position of associate dean for graduate education and research in Howard University’s College of Engineering, Architecture, and Computer Sciences. Throughout his career, Bates authored numerous publications. He has been committed to increasing the number of African Americans in STEM fields and improving scientific research at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Bates and his wife, Priscilla, raised three children: Katherine, Christopher and Naomi.

Clayton W. Bates, Jr. was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on March 5, 2005.

Accession Number

A2004.016

Sex

Male

Archival Photo 1
Interview Date

3/5/2004

Last Name

Bates

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

W.

Schools

Brooklyn Technical High School

New York Junior High School 43

Polytechnic Institute of New York University

Harvard University

Washington University in St Louis

Manhattan College

P.S. 119

Search Occupation Category
Speakers Bureau

Yes

Archival Photo 2
Speakers Bureau Availability

Evenings, Weekends

First Name

Clayton

Birth City, State, Country

New York

HM ID

BAT03

Speakers Bureau Preferred Audience

Youth Teens

Speakers Bureau Honorarium

No

Favorite Season

Fall

Speaker Bureau Notes

Preferred Audience: Youth Teens

Sponsor

National Science Foundation

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

Europe

Favorite Quote

I believe that there are greater things in life than life itself. I believe in climbing upward even when the spent and broken thing called my body calls halt.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

California

Birth Date

9/5/1932

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Bay Area/Palo Alto

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Fried Chicken

Short Description

Electrical engineer and physicist Clayton W. Bates, Jr. (1932 - ) served on the engineering faculty at Stanford University and Howard University. He has dedicated his career to improving STEM education for African Americans.

Employment

Varian Associates

Avco Corporation

Sylvania Electric Products

Ford Instrument Company

RCA Corporation

Stanford University, Department of Materials Science and Engineering

Howard University College of Engineering

Main Sponsor
Main Sponsor URL
Favorite Color

None

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Clayton W. Bates, Jr.'s interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. shares his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. talks about his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. talks about his father's side of the family

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. shares early childhood memories of his parents and holidays

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. describes his New York community

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. talks about his elementary school experience and interest in science

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. talks about his conversion to Catholicism

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. talks about his interest in engineering in junior high school

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. talks about Brooklyn Technical High School and his aspiration to become an engineer

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. talks about his experience at Manhattan College

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. talks about working at RCA and earning his master's degree

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. talks about his transition from engineering to physics

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. talks about earning his Ph.D. degree in physics from Washington University

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. talks about working at Sylvania Electric Products and Varian Associates

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. talks about his wife and his work at Stanford University

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. discusses the importance of the Society of Black Scientists and Engineers at Stanford University

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. discusses important issues for the African American scientific community

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. talks about his transition from Stanford University to Howard University

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. remembers his students and shares advice

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. describes his career

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. reflects on his career path and his life choices

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. talks about his children and their professions

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. discusses his accomplishments in science and in life

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. reflects on his life and discusses the importance of history in the African American community

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Clayton W. Bates, Jr. describes his photos

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$3

DAStory

5$5

DATitle
Clayton W. Bates, Jr. talks about earning his Ph.D. degree in physics from Washington University
Clayton W. Bates, Jr. describes his career
Transcript
Let's talk a little bit about your Ph.D. after you left Harvard [University, Cambridge, Massachusetts].$$OK. Well, I got my Ph.D. from Washington University in St. Louis [Missouri], and the reason I went to Washington University in St. Louis was because of the gentleman who was there that I had read about, and I was interested in doing research with, and I got money, at least for the first year, from my mother's [Arline Walker] employer, the people that she worked for. They simply gave me the money to go for a year, and after that I was able to get a fellowship. Then, I was really committed to maybe getting the Ph.D. in physics without an engineering tail or anything like that at all. So, that's what I did. I got my Ph.D. in physics in 1966 from Washington University in St. Louis.$$What was that like for an African American man?$$In St. Louis, or just what?$$Just in general, a Ph.D. in physics?$$It was very interesting, because [Walter] "Walt" Massey who's the president of Morehouse University [Atlanta, Georgia], and I were roommates. It was very interesting at the time. And I didn't think of it in racial terms, because even when I was in engineering, I was the only black person in the class. It was science. This is what I was interested in doing, and at that time, I was moving more to the area in physics more so than engineering. So, I didn't think of it in racial terms, even though we were the only two blacks at Washington University. We were the first two to get Ph.D.s in the department there, and I don't think they've had any since that time. That's OK. So, I didn't think of it racially, I just thought it was something that I wanted to do. And my experience had always been that people treated me well in physics, that was all.$$$$What were you thinking that you really wanted to do at this point after you'd gotten your Ph.D.?$$After I got my Ph.D., it was very interesting. The advisor, the person I worked with--a very, very well known physicist who died some years ago--got me a job in industry. I was toying between doing a post doctoral fellowship at a university, or going into industry. He recommended I really go into industry and get really more industrial experience than I had. So, I got a job working for Sylvania Electrical Products in Palo Alto, California, where he had been a--he had consulted for them for very many years, and I worked in their, what is called their central research laboratories. So, I started, at least, to work there.$So, in addition to a distinguished career in science and engineering, you've also had another twenty-year career. Can you tell us a little bit about that?$$(Laughter). I was a professional model, actually, for over twenty years, actually. I found that very interesting, because of the way I got into it. My wife was doing professional acting at the time and...$$About what time?$$Oh, that was in the early '70s [1970s]. It was the early 70s I had just started at Stanford University [Palo Alto, California] and--I think we were still living up in the city in San Francisco [California] before moving down to Palo Alto [California]--and my wife was acting in various plays and actually doing quite well, and she enjoyed it very, very much. She thought she wanted to maybe do some modeling--she's an attractive woman, and so she called the photographer over to the house to get pictures made, what's called a composite--they catch you in various poses and everything like that. The photographer said, "I want to take some pictures of you". Well, again, to make a long story short she took the photos that she had to a couple of agencies that she dealt with--modeling agencies--and one of the agencies wanted me and didn't want my wife (laughter). They said my wife just held that against me since that time. I've had a number of different types of jobs. I've done some t.v. shots, mainly for cars. I remember when the Cordova came out. Ricardo Montalban was the one who advertised it. Well, I did, and it showed up in Ebony [Magazine], and I've had pictures show up in New York Times Magazine, and so forth like that. We did a shot of a solid gold Cadillac I remember. It was very interesting and a lot of fun. And, I hesitated to tell people what I did. The models (unclear) what do you do, (unclear) I told them, they would sort of be dumbfounded and say what are you doing this for and I'd say because it's fun and it's interesting. (laughter). That was all.$$Is there a particular shoot or photo session that is very memorable to you?$$Oh yes. The very first one I took because it was done--I can't think of the guy's name--but it was taken by a really world famous photographer, and I can see why. I will never look that good again in my life, and I don't think I even looked that good in the picture there (laughter). It was for an ad for AAA Magazine. It was on the inside cover. It was a head shot and it said, "We don't insure automobiles, we insure neighbors." So, I was sort of the neighbor. And so, that is the one that stands out in my mind. I did some for western cowboys, but that was the one that still stands out in my mind. I just really enjoyed that.