Dr. Lloyd Noel Ferguson was one of the leading Black chemists of his era, paving the way for future STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) scholars at a time where his talents were almost overlooked. Dr. Ferguson is responsible for a pair of significant firsts which helped break barriers and gave rise to what became a world-renowned career.
Ferguson was born February 9, 1918 in Oakland, Ca. At 12, Ferguson acted on his interest in science by purchasing a chemistry kit. He was so devoted to experimentation that he developed his own household items by the time he reached high school. Among the items Ferguson created were moth repellent, spot remover and lemonade powder. A teacher suggested Ferguson attend college and after graduating high school at 16, he worked in construction and on the railroad to earn money.
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Ferguson entered the University of California Berkeley as a chemistry major. After graduating with honors in 1940, he became the first African-American to earn a Ph.D in Chemistry from the college three years later. But the large chemistry companies wouldn’t grant Ferguson an interview despite his credentials because of his race. Undaunted, Ferguson took a job as an assistant professor at North Carolina A&T University.
In 1953, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship which took him to the Carlsberg Laboratory in Copenhagen, Denmark and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland.
After two years at NC A&T, Ferguson joined the faculty of Howard University. While there, Ferguson established the first doctoral program in chemistry for any HBCU in 1958.
In 1961, the National Science Foundation funded his research at the Swiss Institute. Ferguson was also a visiting professor at the University of Nairobi in Kenya in 1971. In 1984, the United Negro College Fund supported his visiting professorship at Bennett College in Greensboro, N.C.
Ferguson continued to evolve in his career, becoming he director of Cal State L.A.’s Minority Biomedical Research Support (MBRS) program from 1973 to 1984. The MBRS program resulted in hundreds of health professional and professorial careers, according to Dr. Carlos Gutierrez, a direct of the Minority Opportunities in Research Programs.
Among Lloyd’s numerous awards, he was named Cal State’s Outstanding Professor in 1974. In 1995, the school’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry established the Lloyd Ferguson Distinguished Lecture Series. There is also Cal State L.A.’s Lloyd Ferguson Scholarship that was established for an undergraduate chemistry major.
Lloyd also helped form the Support for the Educationally and Economically Disadvantaged Program (SEED) of the American Chemical Society.
Ferguson retired from Cal State in 1986. He authored seven chemistry books and over 50 research papers. He died on November 30, 2011 at the age of 93.