Carolyn Parker

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Carolyn Beatrice Parker
Carolyn Beatrice Parker.jpg
Born(1917-11-18)November 18, 1917
Died17 March 1966(1966-03-17) (aged 47)
Alma mater
Known for
  • Dayton Project
  • First African-American woman known to gain postgraduate degree in physics
Scientific career
  • Mathematics
  • Physics

Carolyn Beatrice Parker (1917–1966) was a physicist who worked from 1943 to 1947 on the Dayton Project, the plutonium research and development arm of the Manhattan Project.[1][2] She then became an assistant professor in physics at Fisk University.[2]

Parker earned two master's degrees, one in mathematics from the University of Michigan in 1941 and one in physics from MIT in 1951. Her completion of a doctorate in physics at MIT was prevented by the leukemia that would kill her at age 47.[1] Leukemia was an occupational risk for workers on the Dayton Project.[1][3]

Parker is the first African-American woman known to have gained a postgraduate degree in physics.[citation needed]

Early life and education[edit]

Carolyn Beatrice Parker was born in Gainesville, Florida on November 18, 1917.[2] Her father was Julius A. Parker, a physician who according to the family, was a student of John Kenneth Galbraith, and the second African-American to receive a PhD in business from Harvard.[1] Her mother was Della Ella Murrell Parker.[2] Della Parker was a sister of Joan Murrell Owens, a marine biologist who was one of the first African-American women to receive a PhD in geology.[4]

Carolyn Parker was one of six children, all but one of whom received natural science or mathematics degrees. Mary Parker Miller had a Masters of Science in mathematics from New York University in 1975; Juanita Parker Wynter had a Bachelor of Science in mathematics and chemistry, and a Master of Science from New York University; Julie Leslie Parker had a Bachelor of Science in mathematics from Fisk University and a master's degree in medical technology from Meharry Medical College; and Julius Parker Jr had a master's degree in chemistry from the University of Michigan. The sixth sibling, Martha Parker, studied social sciences, gaining a master's degree from Temple University.[1]

Carolyn Parker graduated magna cum laude with an A.B. (Bachelor of Arts) degree from Fisk University in 1938, then an A.M. (Master of Arts) in mathematics from the University of Michigan in 1941.[2][5]

She undertook further studies from 1946–1947 at Ohio State University, towards the end of time of her time on the Dayton Project.[2] She gained a Master's in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1951,.[1][6] Parker's family report that she had completed the course work for her PhD in physics at MIT around 1952 or 1953, but leukemia prevented her from defending her dissertation.[1] She is the first African-American woman known to have gained a postgraduate degree in physics.[citation needed]


Parker taught in public schools in Rochelle, Florida from 1938–1939, Gainesville, Florida from 1939–1940, and Newport News, Virginia from 1941–1942.[2] She was an instructor in physics and mathematics at Bluefield State College from 1942–1943.[2] From 1943 to 1947, Parker was a research physicist on the Dayton Project, at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.[2] The Dayton Project was part of the Manhattan Project to develop atomic weapons in World War II, and continuing into the Cold War.[7] The Monsanto Chemical Company led top-secret research work on using polonium as the initiator for atomic explosions.[7] Parker's sister, Juanita Parker Wynter, reported in an interview that her work there was "so secret she couldn't discuss it, even with us, her family".[1]

In 1947, Parker became an assistant professor of physics at Fisk University in Tennessee.[2]

Parker was a member of the Institute of Radio Engineers, the American Physical Society, Sigma Upsilon Pi, and Delta Sigma Theta.[2]

Personal life[edit]

Parker's family report that she died of leukemia, which they believe was radiation-induced.[1] Leukemia is regarded as a risk of occupational polonium exposure.[8][9][10] Workers on the Dayton Project had weekly tests for polonium excretion.[8] In 2000, the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program included leukemia as a compensable illness for workers at the Dayton Project who were, or should have been, regularly monitored for polonium levels and were employed there over a certain time.[3]

Parker died in Gainesville, Florida on 3 March 1966 at the age of 47.[11][12] She was Roman Catholic.[2]

Further information[edit]

Carolyn Beatrice Parker is listed in: Gates LH Jr, Burkett NH, Burkett RK. Black biographical dictionaries, 1790–1950 [microform].

Google Scholar records an incomplete citation to this study: Parker, Carolyn Beatrice. Range Distribution of 122 Mev (pi) and (pi−) Mesons in Brass. 1953.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Warren, Wini (1999). Black women scientists in the United States. Bloomington, Ind. [u.a.]: Indiana University Press. pp. 208–209, 216. ISBN 0253336031.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Fleming, GJ; Burckel, CE (1950). Who's who in colored America : an illustrated biographical directory of notable living persons of African descent in the United States. Yonkers-on-Hudson, NY: Christian E. Burckel and Associates. p. 405.
  3. ^ a b "Special Exposure Cohort (SEC)". CDC The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved 26 March 2017.
  4. ^ Kessler, James H. (1996). Distinguished African American scientists of the 20th century ([Online-Ausg.]. ed.). Phoenix, Ariz.: Oryx Press. ISBN 978-0-89774-955-8.
  5. ^ Proceedings of the Board of Regents August 1939 – May 1942. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan. p. 640. Retrieved 26 March 2017.
  6. ^ Abstracts of theses accepted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degrees of Doctor of Philosophy and Doctor of Science. Boston: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). 1951. p. 208. Retrieved 26 March 2017.
  7. ^ a b "Dayton, OH". Atomic Heritage Foundation. Atomic Heritage Foundation. Retrieved 26 March 2017.
  8. ^ a b Council, Committee on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiations, Board on Radiation Effects Research, Commission on Life Sciences, National Research (1988). "Chapter 3 Polonium". Health risks of radon and other internally deposited alpha-emitters. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. ISBN 0-309-03789-1. Retrieved 26 March 2017.
  9. ^ "Health Impacts from Acute Radiation Exposure" (PDF). Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Retrieved 2017-03-26.
  10. ^ "Findings from the NIOSH-Funded Savannah River Site Mortality Study" (PDF). CDC National Institute for Occupational Health Safety. CDC Centers for Disease Control. April 2008. Retrieved 26 March 2017.
  11. ^ "Mt Pleasant Cemetery". Alachua County Virtual Cemetery Project. Jim Powell Jr. Retrieved 26 March 2017.
  12. ^ "Carolyn Parker". Sorted by name. GEDCOM genealogical index. Retrieved 26 March 2017.