Warren E. Henry
- Death date
- Associated organizations
- Tuskegee, MIT, Morehouse College
- Fields of study
- Radar, Superconductors
Warren Henry was born on February 18, 1909 on a thriving peanut farm near Evergreen, Alabama to two graduates of Tuskegee Institute. Henry's father was a particularly efficient farmer, and their home was often visited by George Washington Carver, who conducted research on agricultural methods there during the summers. Both parents were also school teachers, and brought young Warren to work with them from an early age. Surrounded by older pupils, Henry learned to read by the age of four. His parents encouraged learning both in and out of school, and when Henry left home to attend 12th grade at the residential Alabama State Normal School, designed to train students to teach elementary school, his mother convinced him to enroll in a chemistry course. He immediately took to the subject, and his teacher was so impressed he hired Henry as a lab assistant. At 18, he started his college education at his parents' alma mater, Tuskegee, where he pursued a liberal arts course of study and spent his summers on the school's experimental farm conducting research. Warren funded his education by working two jobs, yet still managed to excel in his studies, graduating with three majors-in Mathematics, French, and English-in 1931.
Shortly after graduation, Henry took a position as a teacher and principal at a segregated school in rural Alabama. On summer break following his third year with the school, he attended a program at Atlanta University to further his knowledge of science education. After excelling in the summer program, the chair of the Chemistry department offered him a scholarship to pursue graduate study at the University. While working towards his master's degree in organic chemistry, he taught part-time at both Spelman College and Tuskegee. After completing his masters in 1937, his research interests led him to tour industrial laboratories throughout the Northeast. Soon after, he enrolled at the University of Chicago as a doctoral student, continuing to work several jobs to fund his studies. While a student, he invented a device that measured minute temperature changes resulting from chemical reactions; his dissertation involved testing and further developing this invention.
He received his doctorate in 1941 and returned yet again to Tuskegee to teach chemistry and physics; among his students there were the young men who would go on to form the 99th Pursuit Squadron and became known as the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II.
Soon after, he accepted a position at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to conduct top-secret work improving military radar systems. There, he invented his second scientific device, a faster, better performing video amplifier. From there he went to join the superconductivity research group at the University of Chicago, where he used his dissertation research on small temperature changes to address the problem of metal fatigue on military jets.
Throughout his career, Dr. Henry often returned to teaching, citing his work with doctoral students as among his favorite duties. He joined the Morehouse College faculty in 1947 as professor and acting chair of the Physics Department. In 1948, he moved to Washington, D.C. to work with several other scientists examining the practical uses of superconductors at the Naval Research Laboratory. At night, he taught physics courses at Howard University. In 1960, he took a position at Lockheed Missile and Space Company in California, where he served as senior staff engineer, designing electronic missile guidance tools, submarine detection systems, and a device that measures magnetic fields in outer space. He returned to Washington, D.C. in 1968 as a professor in Howard University's Physics Department and its School of Engineering. While he formally retired in 1977, he continued to devote his time to research and guiding new generations of scientists. He traveled world wide giving talks and presentations, and worked for years with the Minorities Access to Research Careers (MARC) program. He received many awards and accommodations throughout his career, including the 'Outstanding Educator in America Award' in 1974/1975, and his work continues to be cited in textbooks and scientific journals today. He passed away on October 31, 2001.