February 2, 2017
The National Society of Black Physicists honors Dr. Elmer Imes.
Elmer Imes was born on October 12, 1883 in Memphis, TN. He was the second African American to earn a Ph.D. in Physics and the first in the 20th century. He was among the first African-American scientists to make important contributions to modern physics. He received his bachelor's and master's degrees in science from Fisk University and his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1918. While at the University of Michigan, Imes' research and doctoral thesis opened up an entirely new field of research, the study of molecular structure though use of a high resolution infrared spectrometer. This work was an important verification of the emerging quantum theory. Specifically, his work was one of the earliest applications of high resolution infrared spectroscopy and provided the first detailed spectra of molecules giving way to the study molecular structure through infrared spectroscopy. After graduating from the University of Michigan, Imes spent the next eleven years working in industry. While working in industry, he gained four patents for instruments to be used for measuring magnetic and electric properties. In 1930, he was hired as the chairman of the department of physics at Fisk University, his undergraduate alma mater. Imes is credited with the academic development of the physics programs at Fisk and was the chair of the department until his death in 1941.