Evolved Man of the Week: George Robert Carruthers

Welcome to the “Black History Month” edition of the Evolving Man Project’s ‘Evolved Man of the Week’ profiles. Each week in February, we will highlight a historical black male figure that embodies what it meant to be an evolved man, famous and non-famous alike. The world needs to know their stories and deeds. This week’s honor goes to the inventor, physicist, professor, engineer, and scientist, George R. Carruthers.

George Carruthers was born on October 1, 1939, in Cincinnati, Ohio, the eldest of George and Sophia Carruthers’ four children. George Carruthers, Sr. was a civil engineer with the U.S. Army Air Corps and encouraged his son’s early interests in science. By the age of 10, the young Carruthers had constructed his own telescope with cardboard tubing and mail-order lenses he bought with money he earned as a delivery boy.

Carruthers’ father died when the boy was only 12. After his death, the family moved to Chicago, where Sophia went to work for the U.S. Postal Service. Despite the emotional setback, Carruthers continued pursuing science. As one of only a handful of African-Americans competing in Chicago’s high school science fairs, he won three awards, including first prize for a telescope that he designed and built.

In 1957, Carruthers graduated from Chicago’s Englewood High School and entered the engineering program at the University of Illinois’ Champaign-Urbana campus. While an undergraduate, Carruthers focused on aerospace engineering and astronomy. After earning his bachelor’s degree in physics in 1961, Carruthers stayed on at the University of Illinois, earning his master’s in nuclear engineering in 1962 and his Ph.D. in aeronautical and astronautical engineering 1964.

Dr. Carruthers held the position of Rocket Astronomy Research Physicist from 1964 to 1982. He was Head of the Ultraviolet Measurements Branch of the Naval Research Laboratory. An inventor and physicist, George Carruthers was instrumental in the design of lunar surface ultraviolet cameras. Dr. Carruthers’s research focused on research in experimental investigations of atomic nitrogen recombination. Carruthers won the Arthur S. Fleming Award in 1971, the Exceptional Achievement Scientific Award from NASA in 1972, the Warner Prize, and the National Civil Service League Exceptional Achievement Award. In 2003, George Carruthers was inducted into the National Inventor Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio. In 2004, he was selected one of the 50 Most Important Blacks in Research Science.

Dr. Carruthers passed on December 26, 2020, at the age of 81. The National Society of Black Physicists honored him with this statement on his life and contribution to various fields of science and space travel:

He will be remembered as an amazing scientist, engineer, professor, and mentor,” … “Dr. Carruthers is considered the inventor of the ultraviolet camera/spectrograph. He also invented the camera that took the first images of space. His work has been instrumental in the fields of astrophysics. Dr. Carruthers was given many awards for his work, including a National Medal of Technology and Innovation by President Obama.

Dr. Carruthers was a visiting assistant professor in the research fields of atmospheric physics and astrophysics at Howard University, teaching and mentoring future generations of Black physicists. Dr. Carruthers was an NSBP fellow and a staunch supporter of this organization. His passing is a tremendous loss to the physics community and to NSBP. “

Dr. Carruthers’s work is a testament to the power of scientific inquiry. We at the Evolving Man Project extend our deepest condolences to all the friends and family that Dr. Carruthers leaves behind. They can rest assure his legacy will live on for years to come and hopefully inspire a new generation of black scientist. Today we honor Dr. George R. Carruthers as our Evolved Man of the Week. 

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