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February 01, 2024

Celebrating Black History Month

As we celebrate Black History Month this year, Fernbank wants to recognize notable Black leaders and changemakers in the STEAM world. While there are many impressive Black scientists, artists, mathematicians and more, we’ve chosen four to highlight in this blog post that tie into our programming. Learn a little more about these individuals by reading below!

1. Charles Turner 

Charles Turner, considered the first African American entomologist, was best known for his work showing that social insects can modify their behavior as a result of experience.  

Turner’s epithet simply reads “Scientist,” which reflects his work in the fields of zoology, entomology and comparative psychology. He was one of the first behavioral scientists to pay close attention to the use of controls and variables in experiments. Turner mainly studied arthropods such as spiders and bees, setting up trailblazing experiments that hinted at a more complex cognitive ability of insects than originally thought. Despite an advanced degree and 70 published papers, he found it difficult to find employment at major universities due to racial discrimination. However, Charles spent time championing racial equality in higher education and is best known for his lifelong commitment to civil rights and incredible work in behavioral science. 

If you’d like to learn more about a side of entomology at Fernbank, check out Spiders — From Fear to Fascination.

2. Louis Purnell

The Smithsonian's first African American curator, Louis R. Purnell, was known for his extensive work and study in paleontology, oceanography and in aeronautics.

Louis R. Purnell is largely known for his work in identifying, cataloging and tagging specimens while traveling the world on several oceanographic expeditions. Though racial discrimination had often blocked his career path and kept him from receiving full recognition for his accomplishments, he persevered, powered by an insatiable curiosity. Purnell eventually moved to work in aeronautics for the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, which took place amidst the exciting and explorative time of the space race and eventual moon landing. Throughout his time in aeronautics, Purnell would become one of the world’s leading experts on the history of spacesuit technology; he would also travel the world collecting space artifacts and educating the public on the history of spaceflight, all of which eventually led to his hard-won promotion to curator in 1980.

3. Rue Mapp and Outdoor Afro 

Rue Mapp is an awarded leader, speaker and public lands champion. She founded an organization known as Outdoor Afro, set with the goal of changing the visual narrative of Black communities in nature. This organization strives to celebrate and inspire leadership and connection for diverse communities in the great outdoors. The overall mission of Outdoor Afro is to reconnect Black people to land, water and wildlife through outdoor education, recreation and conservation. The local Atlanta network provides activities such as hiking, biking, kayaking, swimming, bird watching, fishing and more.

Want to get outside in metro Atlanta? Check out Fernbank Forest here.

4. Dr. Patricia Era Bath 

Dr. Patricia Bath was a trailblazer and leader in the medical field. While undergoing medical training in New York City in 1969, Patricia noticed that there were higher rates of blind or visually impaired patients in lower-income areas; this held particularly true in the African American populations. Bath then conducted a study and found that the heightened/prevalence of blindness was due to a lack of access to eye care. From then on, she co-founded organizations that were designed to protect, preserve and restore sight through education, community service, research and eye-care services to underserved communities. Among Patricia Bath’s many achievements, she is also recognized as the first Black woman to receive a patent for a medical invention known as the laserphaco probe. This invention created a new technique and device to remove cataracts in a minimally invasive way; it is still used worldwide today. As Dr. Bath worked to solve major concerns in her community, she also opened a new world of accessibility and education that works to serve and protect underserved communities worldwide.

While these are just a few examples of Black pioneers in the STEAM world, we at Fernbank want to say “thank you” to those who continue to be changemakers and help progress society forward.


Abramson, Charles I. "Charles Henry Turner". Encyclopedia Britannica, 30 Jan. 2024, Accessed 31 January 2024.

“African American Groundbreakers at the Smithsonian: Challenges and Achievements.” Smithsonian Institution Archives, 23 Aug. 2016,

Katsnelson, Alla. “This Pioneering Black Zoologist’s Insights Were a Century Ahead of Their Time.” Smithsonian Magazine, Smithsonian Institution, 9 Aug. 2023,

“Outdoor Afro.” Outdoorafroorg, Accessed 31 Jan. 2024.

“Patricia Bath.” Patricia Bath | The National Inventors Hall of Fame, Accessed 31 Jan. 2024.

“Rue Mapp.” Rue Mapp - Awarded Leader, Speaker, and Public Lands Champion, Accessed 31 Jan. 2024.