Native American Scientists and Engineers
Celebrate National Native American Heritage Month by learning more about some of the many Native American scientists and engineers who have made important contributions to science history.
Native American Heritage Month: Scientists to learn more about!
Diversity in STEM
To help students see themselves with a future in STEM and to broaden understanding of science history, it is important for students to learn about a diverse range of scientists and engineers. This includes celebrating the stories of women in science, African American scientists and engineers, Hispanic and LatinX scientists, Asian American Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander scientists, scientists with disabilities, and other scientists from around the world.
In honor of Native American Heritage Month, we highlight stories of a few Native American scientists and engineers who made (and are making) important contributions to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The list below is only a sampling of noted scientists through history and working in STEM fields today.
Learn More about these Native American Scientists and Engineers
To encourage your students to learn more about these scientists and to explore related science projects and careers for scientists they find interesting, for each scientist, we have included a short biographical summary, links to 1-2 hands-on science projects related to the scientist's area of study, links to relevant science career profiles, and a link to a biography.
Note: Educators can use this career worksheet to guide student exploration and reflection about STEM careers.
1. Fred Begay (Clever Fox, Fred Young), Nuclear Physicist
Fred Begay (Navajo) was a nuclear physicist at Los Alamos Laboratory. His research focused on nuclear fusion as an alternative energy source and the search for sources of high energy gamma rays and solar neutrinos. (Biography)
Interested in nuclear science? Learn more with science projects like: Watching Nuclear Particles: See Background Radiation Zoom Through A Cloud Chamber and Particles in the Mist: See Radioactive Particles Decay with Your Own Cloud Chamber!
2. Ella Cara Deloria (Aŋpétu Wašté Wiŋ, Beautiful Day Woman), Anthropologist
Ella Cara Deloria (Yankton Dakota) was an anthropologist, ethnographer, linguist, and writer. Deloria worked to preserve Native American history by recording oral history. Working with anthropologists like Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict, Deloria helped with Sioux linguistics and the translation of Native American languages and materials. (Biography)
Interested in ethnography and linguistics? Learn more with science projects like: The Bouba-Kiki Effect
Learn more about related careers: Anthropologist
3. John Herrington, Aeronautical Engineer and Astronaut
John Herrington (Chickasaw Nation) served in the U.S. Navy before joining NASA as a mission specialist on STS-113, the 16th Endeavour space shuttle mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Herrington was later Commander of NEEMO 6 (NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations) and spent time in the Aquarius underwater laboratory as part of a mission to simulate survival in extreme conditions. (Biography)
Interested in aeronautical engineering and space science? Learn more with science projects like: Space Radiation Protection, Into the Wild Blue Yonder: The Science of Launching an Airplane by Catapult, and Rocket Science: How High Can You Send a Payload?
4. Robin Wall Kimmerer, Environmental Biologist
Robin Wall Kimmerer (Citizen Potawatomi Nation) is an environmental biologist and ecologist whose research on plants and ecological restoration forms the foundation of her books: Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants and Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses. (Biography)
Interested in plant science and ecology? Learn more with science projects like: Moss is Boss: Using Plants to Determine Direction and Turning Mushrooms into Environmentally Friendly Packaging
5. Bertha Parker, Archaeologist
Bertha Parker (Abenaki and Seneca) was part of an archaeological expedition at Gypsum Cave (Las Vegas, NV), where she discovered the skull of a Nothrotherium shastense, an extinct species of giant ground sloth. This discovery, where human artifacts were also being recovered, helped further date the appearance of humans in North America. Parker is associated with other archaeological sites, too, like the Scorpion Hill Pueblo site and the Corn Creek site. (Biography)
Interested in anthropology? Learn more with science projects like: Fantastic Fossilization! Discover the Conditions For Creating the Best Cast Fossils
Learn more about related careers: Anthropologist
6. Mary Golda Ross, Aerospace Engineer
Mary Golda Ross (Cherokee Nation) was an engineer who worked at Lockheed Martin on the design of planes and spacecraft, including the P-38 Lightning fighter plane and the Agena rocket, which helped pave the way for NASA's Apollo mission. Ross was an original member of Lockheed's top-secret Skunk Works team. (Biography)
Interested in aerospace engineering? Learn more with science projects like: Why Winglets? and Stealthy Shapes: How to Make an Aircraft Invisible to Radar
Learn more about related careers: Aerospace Engineer
7. Susan La Flesche Picotte, Physician
Susan La Flesche Picotte (Omaha Nation) was the first Native American to earn a medical degree. She provided health care on the Omaha Reservation and was instrumental in building the first private (not government-funded) hospital on a reservation. (Biography)
Interested in medicine and healthcare? Learn more with science projects like: Blood Clotting to the Rescue: How to Stop Too Much Blood from Flowing and Fighting the Flu: How Your Immune System Uses Its Memory
8. Aaron Yazzie, Mechanical Engineer
Aaron Yazzie (Diné Navajo Nation) is a mechanical engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He designs mechanical systems for collecting and analyzing planetary samples, like those carried by the Mars Perseverance Rover (Mars 2020) to analyze the atmosphere and soil on Mars. (Biography)
STEM Career Worksheet
To encourage students to learn more about these scientists and to explore related careers in science, technology, engineering, and math, use our free STEM Career Worksheet along with this post.
If you use the "8 Inspiring Native American Scientists and Engineers to Know!" post and career worksheet with students, we would love to hear your feedback. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your comments or story.
Note: Individual scientist photos used in this post are in the public domain with exception of:
Robin Wall Kimmerer (SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry)
Bertha Parker (Smithsonian Institution Archives, Accession 90-105, Science Service Records, Image No. SIA2009-0779)
Mary G. Ross (Wikipedia, fair use)
Aaron Yazzie (Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0)
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