In 1876, he became the first African-American and the sixth person of any race to earn a physics Ph.D. in the Western Hemisphere, and went on to have a four-decade science teaching career.
The selection of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University emeritus physics professor Joseph A. Johnson III for one of Yale’s 2016 Bouchet Medals has special resonance with the honor’s namesake. Johnson also earned his Ph.D. from Yale, in 1965, and went on to do pioneering fluid dynamics research in both academia and industry, as well as work to increase the representation of minorities in the sciences. He is an APS fellow and the 1995 recipient of the APS Bouchet Award, which he helped establish. Johnson received his medal at the Annual Yale Bouchet Conference on Diversity and Graduate Education held at Yale in early April, where he proposed a “new Bouchet epoch” combining recent advances in scientific discovery with progress in diversifying science.
That his name would one day adorn awards, honor societies, academic conferences and institutions around the world would probably have surprised Bouchet, given that he did not receive major recognition in his lifetime.
No known copy of Bouchet’s doctoral thesis remains, Mickens says, but his experiments probably tied into then-growing interest in geometrical optics and mineralogy.