|NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson (second left) is honored onstage with actors (left to right) Janelle Monae, Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer - the stars of "Hidden Figures," which focuses on Johnson's work with NASA's Mercury program - during the 89th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on February 26, 2017 in Hollywood, California. NASA astronaut Yvonne Cagle is seen standing behind Johnson|
(Image: © Kevin Winter/Getty Images) Space.com
Topics: African Americans, Diversity, Diversity in Science, Nanotechnology, NASA, Women in Science
Despite segregation, setbacks and Jim Crow, Katherine Johnson is one of the many "shoulders of giants" we stand upon.
As alluded to yesterday, nanotechnology is multifaceted: molecular biology, materials science, electrical and mechanical engineering, chemistry and physics. Her specific area was applied mathematics and computer science, without which no data could be analysed post an experiment.
That's what women were called back then: computers. Computer mainframes were just beginning development, the transistor - discovered by William Shockley, John Bardeen and Walter Houser Brattain - was exploited to reduce payload by the nascent NASA to win the space race against the Russians who launched Sputnik. The spin off from that effort was codified in Moore's law that has given us everything from flash drives to smart phones. The foundation of all this is mathematics - paper, pencil, chalk or dry erase board. The answer sometimes has to be wrestled with and ground out. From the calculus step, one typically encounters an impressive breadth of algebra to wade through.
I particularly thought of Ms. Johnson on a MATLAB (matrix laboratory) assignment coding the Euler equation. Though daunting, my code successfully executed what I asked of it. I did it in the 21st century, where I did not have the indignity of bathrooms designated based on my skin color or gender. I have you, my sister and many other giants to thank for that.
The two things I can say that are most appropriate and respectful to Ms. Johnson's family in this time of their loss:
HAMPTON, Va. (AP) — NASA says Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who worked on NASA’s early space missions and was portrayed in the film Hidden Figures, about pioneering black female aerospace workers, has died.
In a Monday morning tweet, the space agency said it celebrates her 101 years of life and her legacy of excellence and breaking down racial and social barriers.
Pioneering NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson of ‘Hidden Figures’ fame has died at 101
The Associated Press on TheGrio.com