James Harris was a chemist who was part of an American team of researchers that discovered the elements 104 and 105, the first African-American to do so in the capacity. Harris, who attended Texas HBCU Huston-Tillotson University, was also the only member of his team to not have a doctorate degree.

James Andrew Harris was born March 26, 1932 in Waco, Texas but was raised primarily in Oakland, California. He entered HTU where he met his wife, Helen. They had five children together. Harris began working as a radio-chemist before joining the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory at University of California-Berkeley. While at Lawrence, Harris helped discover element 104, known as rutherfordium, and element 105, known as dubnium.

There was some minor controversy over the element discovery as Russian teams made a similar discovery. A compromise was made with the names. Element 104 was offered by the Americans after British physicist Earnest Rutherford, and element 105 named after the Russian city of Dubna where that research team worked.

While Harris didn’t earn an official Ph. D, he was a given an honorary degree from HTU. He also earned his master’s in public administration from California State University in 1975 and took classes in chemistry while working at the Lawrence lab. Harris left Lawrence in 1988 and not much else about his career was widely publicized.

Harris, a member of the National Society of Black Chemist and Black Engineers, won the Scientific Merit Award from the Mayor of Richmond, California, and honors from the Black Dignity Science Association, and the National Urban League. Harris passed at the age of 68 in 2000.

PHOTO: Public Domain

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