Warren Henry

birth: 1909, place: Evergreen, Alabama

died: October 31, 2001

Warren Elliot Henry was born on a peanut farm in Evergreen, Alabama. Both parents were graduates of Tuskegee Institute, and George Washington Carver lived on Henry's parent's farm doing research during summer months. Little Warren learned how to read when he was 4 and occasionally went on walks with his father and Carver. He was allowed to stay up past bedtime only if he were studying or reading.

Henry attended Tuskegee Institute, where he majored in three subjects Mathematics, English and French. Although Dr. Carver was retired by then, he was still on campus doing research and conducting a bible study class, which Warren Henry also attended. In 1931, Henry earned a Bachelor of Science from Tuskegee Institute, and then served as a principal at a segregated school in rural Ardmore, Alabama.

As a school principal, Henry received a summer scholarship at Atlanta University. At the end of the summer, he received a tuition scholarship at Atlanta university. While in graduate school, he taught classes at Spelman and Morehouse Colleges. In 1937, Henry earned an Master of Science in Orhanic Chemstry from Atlanta University.

The Summer after he earned his M.S., Henry studied at the University of Chicago. At the end, a professor, Anton Berg, asked whether he intended to study for the Ph.D. Berg said there was no money, but Henry would have their moral support. Henry stayed as this period (1938-41) was exciting and stimulating, he was exposed to the latest thoughts of the originators of modern physics theories. He passed the language requirements (French and German) the first month at the school. Henry was the only one of five students who took the Ph.D. Qualifying Examination the next January.

It was for Dr. Henry, the beginning of a long association with scientists who either had already won Nobel prizes in chemistry and physics, or were destined to do so. Arthur Compton taught him quantum mechanics, Wolfgang Pauli taught nuclear forces, Robert Millikan taught molecular spectra. He played tennis with Dr. Enrico Fermi who won the Nobel prize for achieving the first sustained chain reaction in a nuclear reactor. (over his career, he has been associated with more than 17 Nobel prize winners). Warren Henry earned a Ph.D. (Physical Chemistry) from the University of Chicago in 1941. He wanted to continue with research, and in those days a Ph.D. should have guaranteed him a research position, but only the historically black schools offered him a job, teaching. Thus, he returned to Tuskeegee Institute, where he taught courses. Some of his students were members of the 99th Pursuit Suadron, part of the later famous Tuskegee Airmen.

A friend, P.R. Bell, from the University of Chicago, helped Dr. Henry find a wartime position at MIT's Top-secret Radiation Laboratory (1943-1946). There Dr. Henry developed video amplifiers that were used in portable radar systems on warships. He was recruited by Dr. Clarence Zener (Zener Diode) for a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Institute of Metal at the U. of Chicago, Warren Henry became chair the Department of Physics at Morehouse College.

The summer after his year at Morehouse, Warren wanted to do low temperature research, but was turned down at Rutgers University for a request to use their equipment (this was around the time Rutgers refused to allow Paul Robeson sing in its choir) . He told his disappointment to an acquaintance at the Office of Naval Research. He was told to go to the Naval Research Laboratory and tell them to hire him for a two month stay. Dr. Henry then said, "At the end of two months, I was asked by Dr. Richard Dolecek to stay. I stayed for 12 years." (1948-1960). During the 1950s his research and knowledge of materials at extremely low temperatures was probably unsurpassed in the U.S. While at the Naval Research Laboratory, Henry headed the group that installed the high field Bitter Magnet. Henry also worked at UC Berkeley as a guest investigator at the Giauque Lab under the auspices of Glenn Seaborg. In the 1960's while at Lockheed Space and Missile Co., he developed guidance systems for the detection of submarines and helped to design the hover craft that was specially developed for use in night fighting during the Vietnam War.

Warren E. Henry's nearly seven decades of work in the fields of magnetism and superconductivity have earned him praise as one of the most eminent African American scientists in this nation's history. He has written or contributed to hundreds of scientific articles and co-authored the 1934 book, Procedures in Elementary Qualitative Chemical Analysis . His monograph on paramagnetism (Halliday and Resnick Electricity and Magnetism ) has been a physics textbook standard in this country for years. His demonstration of the proof of non-interacting paramagnetic ions is a significant contribution and is included in many textbooks. Students often are first introduced to Henry's work in courses on solid state physics or material science, where his research is quoted extensively.

Warren E. Henry was a Fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was also the recipient of awards such as: The Tuskegee Alumni Award, Carver Award, Outstanding Educator in America, Lifetime Achievement Award in the Community from the National Science Foundation and the 1997 Technical Achiever of the Year Award from the National Technical Association. In March, 1997 he received the 1st Annual Golden Torch Award for Lifetime Achievement in Engineering, which was sponsored by the National Society of Black Engineers. He was also awarded the National Science Foundation's Lifetime Achievement Award in Community Service. He has also been nominated for the National Medal of Science, the highest US science honor given by the nation's President. The nomination was submitted by Dr. Glenn Seaborg, and supported by Dr. Robert Schrieffer both Nobel Laureates and other noted scientists. In 1997 he was honored by Howard University and Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California.

Dr. Henry retired in 1977, but Henry continued, for another twenty years, involvement with a program for Blacks called Minorities Access to Research Careers (MARC), which encourages third and fourth-year college students to be members of scientific teams. In 1980, his wife of many years, Jean Pearlson Henry, died.


REFERENCES: [Carswell]; [80th birthday symposium at Howard University]; [celebration at Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory], [obituary - The Washington Post]

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