Monday, February 8, 2010

Dr. Ralph Gardner-Chavis

Ralph Alexander Gardner, hard plastics pioneer and one of the scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project which developed he atomic bomb, was born December 3, 1922 in Cleveland, Ohio, to Vivian Hicks Gardner, a teacher and housewife, and Clarence Chavous Gardner, a musician and government worker. His mother earned a degree from the University of Illinois. While in the eighth and ninth grade, Gardner realized that chemistry was his direction in life. He graduated from John Adams High School in Cleveland. He began college at the Case School of Applied Science in 1939 but grew disillusioned with the treatment he received there. As the only black student in their cooperative program (designed to find work for its students), he found it demeaning to be told that the school’s efforts to find him a job in a hospital kitchen or as a busboy were fruitless. He transferred to the University of California Berkley, then back home, to eventually graduate from the University of Illinois School of Chemistry in 1943. Gardner-Chavis took a research post at the University of Chicago’s Argonne National Laboratory, where he worked under nuclear scientist Dr. Enrico Fermi and radioactivity scientist Dr. Nathan Sugarman. For the next four-and-a-half years, he was employed on classified plutonium research on the Manhattan Project. This highly classified plutonium research was crucial to the United States developing the atomic bomb, which ended World War II in 1945. Gardner was one of more than a dozen black scientists who were involved in research on the atomic project. Those black scientists known to have been involved in the metallurgical laboratories also included Lloyd Albert Quarterman, Edward A. Russell, ModdieTaylor, Harold Delaney, Benjamin Scott, J. Ernest Wilkins, and Jaspar Jefferies. A second group at Columbia University included George Dewitt Turner, Cecil Goldsburg White, Sydney Oliver Thompson, William Jacob Knox, and George Warren Reid, Jr.

Even after holding such a prestigious research position during World War II, Gardner was unable to find academic or professional work after the conflict ended, so he worked as a waiter until 1949. In 1949, he became a research chemist and project leader at the Standard Oil Company in Ohio, where he remained for almost 20 years. Gardner-Chavis completed his graduate studies at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, earning both a master's degree and Ph.D. in chemistry in 1952 and 1959 respectively.  Gardner-Chavis then took a teaching position in Cleveland State University's Chemistry Department, where he remained full-time from 1968 to 1985. He later combined part-time teaching with work in the research lab of Molecular Technology Corp., a private firm where he also served as the Vice President of Research and on the board of directors. Currently, he holds emeritus status in the CSU Chemistry Department, where he continues his research on catalysis and molecular technology, topics on which he has published numerous scholarly articles.

Known throughout most of his life as Ralph Alexander Gardner, he added the "Chavis" surname late in his career in recognition of his relationship to John Chavis; in 1760, the first African American to graduate from Princeton.  Dr. Ralph Gardner-Chavis became a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity in 1942 and ICHE in 2001.

No comments:

Post a Comment