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George Robert Carruthers - Inventor, Physicist, Engineer and Space Scientist

George Robert Carruthers - Inventor, Physicist, Engineer and Space Scientist

Black History Month - Focus on Science

As we move with hope and vigor towards a time in which the monumental achievements and contributions of Black and Indigenous folks are recognized with priority for 12 months of the year rather than sequestered to our calendar's shortest month, hBARSCI wishes to pay tribute to a handful of extremely important scientists. 

Though often underrepresented in history, these are people who have aided immeasurably in the evolution of humankind's understanding of our world and universe, and in our ability to survive on a small rock tearing through space at 1,000 miles per hour.

We will feature a Scientist weekly throughout the month, and it is our hope that these small bits of commentary will encourage further curiosity and learning. If there is a particular scientist who you would like to see featured here at any time of year, don't hesitate to reach out and let us know.  

George Robert Carruthers

Carruthers was born in Milford, Ohio in 1939. Pop-fiction and space flight stories got him jazzed about astronomy and physics at a super young age, and within a decade of being born he’d managed to buy some cardboard tubing and lenses and build his first telescope. 

It’s not likely that while he was doing this, he ever imagined that someday he would build a telescopic camera that would find its permanent residence on the moon that he looked up at every night. But maybe he did think that, and perhaps that’s why he was able to transcend, and dream, and achieve something that even by today’s standards seems to stretch imagination to its outer limits.  

Graduating high school, the year the Soviet’s kicked off the interstellar exploration war by firing Sputnik into the darkness of space, George was well positioned to play a key role in our nation’s “hold my beer” response to a metal ball with a three week battery life making its way into a legitimate orbit.  

Immediately heading to the U of Illinois for a B.S. in aero engineering, and an M.S. in nuclear engineering, and then just to round things out, a Ph.D. in aero AND astronomical engineering, he got into studying plasma and gas and that sort of thing.  1964 saw him employed by the Naval Research Laboratory in our nation’s Capital, with a refined focus on UV astronomy. 

As a means of escaping the TL;DR phenomenon of the day, and leaving anyone reading this hungry enough to start link jumping at the bottom of the article, let’s hop ahead to the late 60’s and the brilliant invention of an “Image Converter” that could detect short wave electromagnetic radiation.

Then, out of nowhere, thanks to Carruthers, folks woke up one day in 1970 and learned that molecule hydrogen existed in interstellar space. Pretty wild notion worth deep thought where time might allow today. 

As was habit for Carruthers and his “can’t stop, won’t stop” mentality, a mere 2 years later he had the same spectrograph launched to the moon in the capable hands of the Apollo 16 mission. It would take up permanent residence on the Descartes Highlands region, and be forever cemented in history as the object next to John Young’s leg in the iconic picture of him saluting the flag and working on his vertical leap. 

Continuing on with a life of prestigious achievements, awards, accolades, trophies and presidential handshakes, it should also be noted that George was a skilled educator, developing and teaching courses for the D.C Public Schools Science teachers as well as teaching at Howard University. 

George passed away on December 26th 2020 at the age of 81. Due to the recency of his passing, there are many very recent articles of remembrance available online and we recommend spending some time with those. 

Additionally, Carruthers can and should be further researched through the resources below (YouTube is a really good spot to spend some time with this one).

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