James Andrew Harris

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James Andrew Harris
James Andrew Harris.jpeg
Born(1932-03-26)March 26, 1932
Waco, Texas
DiedDecember 12, 2000(2000-12-12) (aged 68)
OccupationNuclear chemist
Notable work
Co-discovery of rutherfordium and dubnium

James Andrew Harris (March 26, 1932 – December 12, 2000) was an American nuclear chemist who was involved in the discovery of elements 104 and 105 (rutherfordium and dubnium, respectively). Harris is known for being the first African American to contribute to the discovery of new elements.[1]

Personal life[edit]

James A. Harris was born on March 26, 1932 in Waco, Texas.[2] Harris' parents divorced when he was young, after which he moved to Oakland, California with his mother.[1] Harris met his wife Helen at Huston-Tillotson College, where they were both completing their undergraduate studies; they were married in 1957 and had five children, Cedric, Keith, Hilda, Kimberly, and James II. Between the time of his graduation from college and his marriage, Harris served in the Army.[3] His hobbies included golf, traveling, and community activities.[1] James A. Harris died of a sudden illness on December 12, 2000.[4]


James A. Harris graduated from McClymonds High School in Oakland, California.[5] After high school, Harris returned to Texas where he attended Huston-Tillotson College in Austin.[6] He studied chemistry and received a bachelor of science degree in 1953.[3] In 1975, Harris received a master's degree in Public Administration at California State University, Hayward. Harris was awarded an honorary doctorate from Huston-Tillotson College in 1973 for his co-discovery of rutherfordium and dubnium.[6] Harris was also a brother of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.[6]


Harris' first job in chemical research was at Tracerlab Inc. as a radiochemist; he worked there for five years. After that time, Harris left Tracerlab Inc. to work on the Nuclear Chemistry department of the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory at University of California-Berkeley working on isotope division.[2] In 1977, Harris was promoted to Head of Engineering and Technical Services Division at Lawrence.[6] Harris retired from his work in the lab in 1988.

Harris worked in the Heavy Isotopes Production Group. His job was to design and purify targets that would be used to discover elements 104 and 105. These targets needed minimal impurities of elements such as lead to work.[7] Harris' colleagues praised his work, saying that it was high quality and good for elemental research.[7]


Two research teams were simultaneously working to discover elements 104 and 105. One was Harris's team at the University of California-Berkeley and the other was a team of Russian scientists. Both teams successfully isolated the two elements around the same time, so there is dispute over which team was actually the first to isolate the elements. To ease the dispute, element 104 was given the name suggested by the American research team, rutherfordium, after the influential British physicist. Element 105 was subsequently given the name dubnium, representing the city where the Russian team worked.[8]


Harris worked on the following organizations:[2]

  • National Society of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers
  • Nuclear Target Society
  • American Chemical Society
  • AEC Transplutonium Program
  • Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity
  • Honorary PhD from Huston-Tillotson College (1973)
  • Scientific Merit Award from the Mayor of Richmond, CA
  • Certificate of Merit from the Black Dignity Science Association


  1. ^ a b c "James A. Harris". www.cpnas.org. National Academy of Sciences. 2002. Retrieved 2016-04-04.
  2. ^ a b c Brown, M.C. "James Andrew Harris: Nuclear Chemist". www.fofweb.com. Retrieved 2016-04-04.
  3. ^ a b "Harris, James A." Online Infobase. Facts on File. 2014.
  4. ^ Burke, Anabel. "James Andrew Harris". Waco History. Retrieved 2019-05-02.
  5. ^ "James Andrew Harris".
  6. ^ a b c d "James Andrew Harris: Nuclear Chemist". webfiles.uci.edu. Retrieved 2016-04-04.
  7. ^ a b Gonzales, Lisa (2000). "Jim Harris left his mark on science and community". Berkeley Lab Currents. Berkeley Lab.
  8. ^ Green, John. "Who was the African American Nuclear Scientist who discovered the Elements Rutherfordium & Hahnium?". Retrieved April 4, 2016.