Henry T. Sampson: The King of Gamma Rays
Are you ready to meet an engineer who changed the gamma game? Meet Henry T. Sampson, an African-American engineer and inventor who made significant contributions to the field of nuclear engineering.
Henry T. Sampson was born in Jackson, Mississippi and from a young age, he was fascinated by mechanics and engineering. He attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia before transferring to Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana where he earned a B.S. degree in chemical engineering in 1956. Sampson continued his studies and earned an M.S. degree in chemical engineering in 1961 from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He continued his graduate studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and earned his Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering in 1967, making him the first African-American in the United States to earn a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering. He went on to work for the U.S. Air Force and NASA.
One of his most significant contributions to the field of nuclear engineering was the invention of the gamma-electric cell. In 1971, he co-invented the gamma-electric cell with George H. Miley. The gamma-electric cell converts high radiation energy (gamma rays) to electricity. This invention revolutionized the field of nuclear energy, making it more efficient and practical.
But Henry T. Sampson's contributions to the field of nuclear engineering didn't stop there. He also made significant contributions to the fields of energy and telecommunications. He contributed to the technology that is used to this day in cell phones. He also held several other patents for his inventions, including one focusing on the development of rocket propellants.
In this nuclear power plant diagram, the reactor building and vessel serve as means to shield the nuclear reactor. Sampson's gamma-electric cell assisted in this shielding process. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Sampson passed away June 4, 2015 in Stockton, California. He was 81 years old.
Henry T. Sampson's legacy lives on today as a reminder of the power of innovation and determination. He was a pioneer in the field of nuclear engineering, and his invention has the potential to revolutionize the field of nuclear energy, making it more efficient and practical. So, next time you're thinking about the future of energy, remember the name Henry T. Sampson, the engineer who changed the gamma game.
Gamma Ray Sensory Bottle
- Clear plastic bottle with a tight-fitting lid (such as a water bottle)
- Glitter or small beads
- Food coloring
- Vegetable oil
- Optional: Grab your Arrrgh Mighty Observation Journal
What can you spy with your engineering eye? Who wants to see if they can spot particles of energy? Let’s go!
- Fill the bottle about 3/4 full with vegetable oil.
- Add a few drops of food coloring to the bottle to represent the gamma rays. You can use any color you like, but purple and blue are often used to represent gamma rays.
- Add a generous amount of glitter or small beads to the bottle. These will represent the particles that make up gamma rays.
- Close the lid tightly and shake the bottle to mix the ingredients.
- Show the bottle to your kids and explain that the glitter represents the particles that make up gamma rays and the food coloring represents the energy of the gamma rays.
- Encourage kids to observe the bottle and talk about what they see.
- Optional: Encourage the kids to describe or draw their observations in the Arrrgh Mighty Observation Journal.
This is a great activity to help kids fundamentally understand the composition of gamma rays. It can help them understand that gamma rays are a form of energy that is made up of particles and that they can be visualized with different colors and shapes.