Dr. Herman Branson was a pioneering physicist who helped uncover the mysteries of the alpha helix protein structure, although his contributions beyond science were also of note. Dr. Branson was also a champion of educational equity and used his influence to convince President Richard Nixon to increase federal aid to Black colleges in the early ’70’s.
Herman Russell Branson was born on this day in 1914 in the town of Pocahontas, Va. He attended Virginia State College, now known as Virginia State University, earning his undergraduate degree. He went on to earn a Ph. D. In Physics from the University of Cincinnati. He joined Howard University’s faculty as an assistant professor of physics and chemistry in 1941, remaining with the staff until 1968.
Branson took leave in 1948 to work in the labs of Dr. Linus Pauling. He helped uncover the inner workings of the alpha helix, bringing greater understanding to protein as the building blocks of DNA. Branson applied much of his understanding of protein structures to his research work on sickle-cell anemia. Later in life, Branson reportedly felt snubbed by Dr. Pauling as he is listed as the third author of the alpha helix discovery and felt that his contributions were far more significant.
In 1968, Branson left Howard to become the president of Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio. He left there to do the same at Pennsylvania’s Lincoln University until his retirement in 1985. During that time, Branson co-founded the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Education, which was established to bring more funding to Black schools.
Branson died in 1995.
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