Henry Sampson (inventor)

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Henry T. Thomas Sampson, Jr. (born in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1934, died June 4, 2015 in Stockton, CA[1]) was an African-American inventor, known for creating the gamma-electric cell–a device with the main goal of generating auxiliary power from the shielding of a nuclear reactor.


Henry T. Sampson graduated from Lanier High School in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1951. He then attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, before transferring to Purdue University in Indiana, where he became a member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity. He received a Bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from Purdue University in 1956. [2]. He graduated with a MS degree in engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1961. Sampson also received an MS in Nuclear Engineering from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 1965, and his PhD in 1967. He was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering in the United States.

Early career[edit]

He was a member of the United States Navy between the years 1962 and 1964. Sampson was employed as a research chemical engineer at the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake U.S. Naval Weapons Center, China Lake California, in the area of high energy solid propellants and case bonding materials for solid rocket motors. Sampson also served as the Director of Mission Development and Operations of the Space Test Program at the Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, California.


His patents included a binder system for propellants and explosives and a case bonding system for cast composite propellants. Both inventions are related to solid rocket motors.

On July 6, 1971, he was awarded a patent, with George H. Miley, for a gamma-electrical cell, a device that produces a high voltage from radiation sources, primarily gamma radiation, with proposed goals of generating auxiliary power from the shielding of a nuclear reactor. Additionally, the patent cites the cell's function as a detector with self-power and construction cost advantages over previous detectors.[3][4]

Film historian[edit]

In addition to his career as an inventor, Sampson was a noted film historian.[5] He wrote the book Blacks in Black and White: A Source Book on Black Films, which examines often overlooked African-American film makers from the first half of the 20th century. In addition he authored The Ghost Walks: A Chronological History of Blacks in Show Business, 1865-1910. Sampson produces documentary films on African-American film makers. In 2005, he published Singin' on the Ether –Waves: a Chronological History of African Americans in Radio and Television Programming, 1925-1955 (two vols, 1270 pages), Lanham, Maryland, and Oxford, UK: Scarecrow Press, 2005.

In 2011 Sampson donated his considerable collection of historical film memorabilia to Jackson State Uis housed in the H.T. Sampson Library, named for his father, H. T. Sampson Sr., former executive dean of Jackson State University.[6]

Awards and honors[edit]

He earned an Atomic Energy Commission honor between 1964 and 1967. Later he was awarded the Black Image Award from Aerospace Corporation in 1982. He was awarded the Blacks in Engineering, Applied Science Award, and prize for education, by the Los Angeles Council of Black Professional Engineers in 1983.

Sampson was associated with the Board of Directors of Los Angeles Southwest College Foundation and was a technical consultant to the Historical Black Colleges and Universities Program.


  1. ^ "Dr. Henry T. Sampson, Jr. Gamma Electric Cell Inventor Remembered". Sacramento Observer. 8 July 2015. Retrieved 23 April 2017.
  2. ^ "Purdue University Distinguished Engineering Alumni". Retrieved December 1, 2013.
  3. ^ "Gamma-Electric Cell Patent 3591860". Retrieved February 2, 2011.
  4. ^ "United States Patent Office Patent 3591860". Retrieved February 6, 2015.
  5. ^ Bourne, Stephen (2007). Ethel Waters: Stormy Weather. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press. p. 87.
  6. ^ "press release". Jackson State University. Archived from the original on March 11, 2014. Retrieved March 10, 2014.

External links[edit]

  • Biography of Sampson from IEEE
  • Henry T. Sampson and Laura H. Young-Sampson, "The Making of a Nuclear Engineer, Inventor, and Black Film Historian: Dr. Henry Thomas Sampson, Jr." Journal of African American History, 2009, 94:2, 224-247.