Dr. Henry Thomas Sampson Jr. is the first Black person to earn a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering. Though Dr. Thomas has been incorrectly named as the inventor of the modern cell phone, one of his inventions did go on to inspire technology that powers the devices.
Sampson was born in Jackson, Miss. in 1934. Graduating high school in 1951, Sampson briefly attended Morehouse College before transferring to Purdue University. Sampson graduated from Purdue in 1956 with a bachelor’s in chemical engineering. He obtained his master’s from UCLA in chemical engineering in 1961. Sampson attended the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and earned his nuclear engineering Ph.D. in 1967.
Between 1962 and 1964, Sampson was a fellow for the Navy ahead of his twenty-year career with the Aerospace Corp. which began in 1967. In that time, Sampson created or co-created several inventions that still have practical uses today.