Carruthers, like many families and clans with descendants located around the world, is represented by a diverse population of those bearing our name. One of the most famous of which is George Robert Carruthers, an African-American Scientist and inventor of some renown.
George was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1939, being the eldest of 4 children to his father George Snr, a civil engineer and his mother Sophia, the latter being a full-time wife, mother and homemaker. Although, not performing well at school in the early years earning poor grades in both math and physics, he progressively developed a real passion for science, with a special interest in both astronomy and physics. It is reported that he had built, with encouragement his father, model rockets and at the age of 10, his first workable telescope. The lenses being bought mail order, saving up for the parts with the money he had earned as a delivery boy.
Sadly, George’s father died when he was 12 and he moved with his mother and siblings back to Chicago, Illinois where his mother took employment with the US Postal Service. Despite the emotional setback, Carruthers continued pursuing science and as one of only a handful of African-Americans competing in Chicago’s high school science fairs, he won three awards, including first prize for a telescope that he designed and built. While there, George spent a lot of time in the Chicago libraries, museums and in the Adler Planetarium. He joined various science clubs and was a member of the Chicago Rocket Society. What peaked his particular interest was the space exploits of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC, and upon graduating from Englewood High School in 1957, he enrolled in the engineering programme at the University of Illinois.
George stayed at the University of Illinois for seven years, receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering in 1961, a Master’s degree in Nuclear Engineering in 1962 and a Ph.D. in Aeronautical and Astronomical Engineering in 1964 (his thesis focusing on atomic nitrogen recombination). Showing the mark of the man, it is recorded that he had said of his university years “When I was in college, I was undecided whether to pursue aerospace engineering or astronomy as my major, so I decided to take courses in both of them.”
Upon completion of his PhD, he went to work for the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) as a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow, having received a fellowship in Rocket Astronomy from them. Carruthers focused his attention on far ultraviolet astronomy, observing the Earth’s upper atmosphere and other astronomical phenomena. Two years later he became a full-time research physicist at the NRL’s E. O. Hurlburt Center for Space Research, where he began research on ways to create visual images as a means for understanding the physical elements of deep space. He particularly concentrated on creating a device to analyse and illuminate ultraviolet radiation. George, was to spend the rest of his professional life living in Washington DC.
According to his biography; on November 11, 1969, he was awarded a patent for his “Image Converter for Detecting Electromagnetic Radiation Especially in Short Wave Lengths.” During a 1970 rocket flight, his UV telescope, or spectograph, and image converter provided the first proof of the existence of molecular hydrogen in interstellar space. His invention, the Far Ultraviolet Camera/Spectrograph (UVC), as the first moon-based observatory, was used on April 21, 1972, during the first lunar walk of the Apollo 16 mission. For the first time, scientists were able to examine the Earth’s atmosphere for concentrations of pollutants, and see UV images of more than 550 stars, nebulae and galaxies. George was awarded NASA’s Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal for his work on the project.
In the 1980s, one of George’s inventions captured an ultraviolet image of Halley’s Comet and in 1991 he invented a camera that was used in the Space Shuttle Mission.
George also extended his personal efforts to education and helped create a program called the Science & Engineers Apprentice Program, which gave high school students the opportunity to work at the Naval Research Laboratory. In 1996 and 1997, he taught a course in Earth and Space Science for D.C. Public Schools Science teachers. Then, in 2002, he began teaching a course on Earth and Space Science at Howard University.
In 2003, George was inducted into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame for his work in science and engineering and in 2012 received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation from the President of the United States, Barack Obama for significant contributions to the development of new and important technology.
The Office of Naval Research honored him as a distinguished Lecturer for his achievements in the field of space science. and he is a recipient of the Arthur S. Flemming Award, the Warner Prize from the American Astronomical Society, and an Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal from NASA.
George R. Carruthers has not only been an inspiration to many young American scientists and but we are proud to say that he is a member of the Clan Carruthers.