February 4, 2017
The National Society of Black Physicists honors Dr. Herman Branson
Dr. Herman Branson was a physicist and chemist whose contributions were instrumental to the discovery of the alpha-helix protein structure in biological systems. He was educated at Virginia State College in 1936 where he earned a bachelor’s in physics. After graduating, Branson went on to the University of Cincinnati to obtain his Ph.D. in physics. He studied under the direction of Boris Padowski in 1939, a confidant of Albert Einstein. Branson and Padowski wrote the research paper On the Quantization of Mass in 1940. He worked at Dillard University for a year and then went to Howard University in 1941. By 1942, he had skyrocketed to the top of the academia ladder by becoming the director of experimental science and mathematics with technology. During his 26-year career at Howard, Branson served in various capacities including director of the Office of Naval Research and Atomic Energy Commission Projects in Physics, director of the Research Corporation Project and chairman of the physics department. In 1948, Branson worked with Caltech chemist Linus Pauling on finding possible helical structures within proteins. His calculations proved instrumental, although he didn’t find out until after he returned to Howard and was notified by mail of Pauling’s research. Pauling was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry and Branson was completely uncredited for his work. After getting snubbed for his contributions, Branson stayed at Howard until 1968. He decided not to teach anymore and became the president of Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, from 1968 to 1970. Then he became the president of Lincoln University in Pennsylvania from 1970 until his retirement in 1985. Branson was also instrumental in researching sickle cell anemia. In 1958, Branson and Dr. Frederick Peck released a paper that laid out details about the condition. Even though he wasn’t awarded a Nobel Prize, history remembers his contribution in regards to alpha helix.