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George Carruthers

George Carruthers

Biography
(1939–2020)
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Scientist George Carruthers created inventions, such as the ultraviolet camera, or spectrograph, which was used by NASA in the 1972 Apollo 16 flight, revealing the mysteries of space and the Earth's atmosphere.

Who Was George Carruthers?

Scientist George Carruthers built his first telescope at the age of 10. He earned his Ph.D. in aeronautical and astronautical engineering at the University of Illinois in 1964 and began working at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. His telescope and image converter was used to identify molecular hydrogen in space and his ultraviolet camera/spectrograph was used by Apollo 16 during the flight to the moon. 

Early Life

Carruthers was born on October 1, 1939, in Cincinnati, Ohio, the eldest of George and Sophia Carruthers' four children. George Carruthers, Sr. was a civil engineer with the U.S. Army Air Corps, and encouraged his son's early interests in science. By the age of 10, the young Carruthers had constructed his own telescope with cardboard tubing and mail-order lenses he bought with money he earned as a delivery boy.

Carruthers' father died when the boy was only 12. After his death, the family moved to Chicago, where Sophia went to work for the U.S. Postal Service. Despite the emotional setback, Carruthers continued pursuing science. 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.

In 1957, Carruthers graduated from Chicago's Englewood High School and entered the engineering program at the University of Illinois' Champaign-Urbana campus. While an undergraduate, Carruthers focused on aerospace engineering and astronomy. After earning his bachelor's degree in physics in 1961, Carruthers stayed on at the University of Illinois, earning his master's in nuclear engineering in 1962, and his Ph.D. in aeronautical and astronautical engineering in 1964.

Scientific Inventions

In 1964, he went to work for the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory as a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow. Two years later he became a full-time research physicist at the NRL's E. O. Hurlburt Center for Space Research.

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On November 11, 1969, Carruthers was awarded a patent for his "Image Converter for Detecting Electromagnetic Radiation Especially in Short Wave Lengths." During a 1970 rocket flight, Carruthers's UV telescope, or spectrograph, and image converter provided the first proof of the existence of molecular hydrogen in interstellar space. Carruther's invention 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. Carruthers was awarded NASA's Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal for his work on the project.

In the 1980s, one of Carruthers' inventions captured an ultraviolet image of Halley's Comet. In 1991, he invented a camera that was used in the Space Shuttle Mission.

Later Years and Death

Carruthers also extends his efforts to education. He 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, Carruthers began teaching a course on Earth and Space Science at Howard University.

In 2003, Carruthers was inducted into the National Inventor's Hall of Fame for his work in science and engineering.

Carruthers passed away on December 26, 2020, at a hospital in Washington.

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