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African American scientist

Charles Henry Turner remembered

Nature volume 542, page 31 (02 February 2017) | Download Citation


In these alarming times for the progress of US science and diversity, I wish to mark 150 years since the 3 February birth of Charles Henry Turner (1867–1923), a shamefully neglected African American scientist.

In 1907, Turner became the third African American at the University of Chicago, Illinois, to be awarded a PhD (in zoology). He published more than 70 papers in fields as diverse as avian morphology, natural history, insect navigation, education and civil rights — including the first paper by an African American in Science (C. H. Turner Science 19, 16–17; 1892). Turner discovered that foraging ants make an exploratory circling movement on returning to their nests, which the French naturalist Victor Cornetz named tournoiement de Turner (Turner circling) in his honour in 1910 (see also

Unable to secure an academic job despite his publication record, Turner did most of his research while teaching on the meagre salary paid in African American high schools (W. S. Savage J. Negro Hist. 22, 335–344; 1937), without proper lab facilities, a library or graduate students.

I suggest that Turner's contributions should be taught in schools and universities to inspire more students from under-represented groups to enter the scientific, engineering and medical disciplines.

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  1. Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, USA.

    • Charles I. Abramson


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Correspondence to Charles I. Abramson.

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