Elmer Samuel Imes

born 1883 - died 1941

place: Oberlin, Ohio

pre-doctorate education: A.B. Fisk University, 1903

doctoral institution: Ph.D University of Michigan, 1918

After finishing Fisk University, Imes taught mathematics and physics at Alabama Normal University until returning to fisk in 1913 were he was an instructor and earned an M.S. In 1915, went to the University of Michigan for graduate work where, in the laboratory of Harrison Randall, began to design and construct powerful spectrometers. Imes earned his Ph.D. (the second African American to do so in Physics) in 1918 and the next year he and Randall "published a signal work that opened an entirely new field of research: the study of molecular structure through the use of infra-red spectroscopy. Their work revealed for the first time the detailed spectra of simple-molecule gases, leading to important verification of the emerging quantum theory and providing, for the first time, an accurate measurement of the distances between atoms and a molecule.

In 1919 Dr. Imes married a Nella Larsen, one of the great poets of the Harlem Renaissance. They divorces in 1933.

The fundamental significance of the work attributed to Imes is well established in standard texts. Imes' dissertation research was published Measurements of the near infra-red absorption of some diatomic gases, Astrophysical Journal 20 (1919), 251-276. The joint Randall and Imes paper is The Fine Structure of the Near Infra-Red Absorption Bands of HCI, HBr, and HF, Physical Review 15 (1920), 152-155. Imes' work formed a turning point in the scientific thinking, making it clear that quantum theory was not just a novelty, useful in limited fields of physics, but of widespread and genral application. Imes may well have been far more known abroad than in bigoted U.S., but even the foreign physicists weren't aware he was African American.

From 1918 until 1926 Dr. Imes worked as a research physicist at Burrows Magnetic Equipment Corporation after which worked as a research engineer at the Edward A. Everett Company until 1929. Also during this period he had four patents for his work. Dr. Elmer S. Imes returned to Fisk in 1929 to start Fisk's A.B. program in Physics. It is should be noted that Imes was married to the well-known black writer Nella Larsen.

references: [faces], [Michigan Physics], [Mickens, pg.8,9], [Taylor, pg 179]


VISITORS since opening 5/27/1997

back to front page of Physicists of the African Diaspora

This website was created by and is maintained by
Dr. Scott Williams, Professor of Mathematics
State University of New York at Buffalo

SEARCH the site

CONTACT Dr. Williams