February 5, 2018
The National Society of Black Physicists honors Dr. George Alcorn, Jr.
George Edward Alcorn Jr. was born on March 22, 1940, in Indianapolis, Indiana. Alcorn received a four-year academic scholarship to Occidental College in Los Angeles, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Physics. He received his degree with honors while earning eight letters in basketball and football. Alcorn earned a Master of Science in Nuclear Physics in 1963 from Howard University, after nine months of study. During the summers of 1962 and 1963, he worked as a research engineer for the Space Division of North American Rockwell. He was involved with the computer analysis of launch trajectories and orbital mechanics for Rockwell missiles, including the Titan I and II, the Saturn and the Nova.
After earning his Ph.D., Alcorn spent twelve years in industry. He was senior scientist at Philco-Ford, senior physicist at Perker-Elmer, and advisory engineer at IBM Corporation. In 1973, Alcorn was chosen to be IBM Visiting Professor in Electrical Engineering at Howard University, and he has held positions at that university ever since, rising to the rank of full professor. Alcorn is also a full professor in the department of electrical engineering at the University of the District of Columbia, where he has taught courses ranging from advanced engineering mathematics to microelectronics.
Alcorn left IBM, where he worked as a Second Plateau Inventor, to join NASA in 1978. While at NASA, Alcorn invented an imaging x-ray spectrometer using thermos-migration of aluminum, for which he earned a patent in 1984, and two years later he devised an improved method of fabrication using laser drilling. His work on imaging x-ray spectrometers earned him the 1984 NASA/GSFC Inventor of the Year Award. During this time, he also served as deputy project manager for advanced development, and in this position he was responsible for developing new technologies required for the space station Freedom. Alcorn served as manager for advanced programs at NASA/GSFC from 1990 to 1992, and his primary duties concerned the managing of technology programs and evaluating technologies which were required by GSFC. He also managed the GSFC Evolution Program, concerned with ensuring that over its 30-year mission the space station develops properly while incorporating new capabilities.
George Edward Alcorn, Jr. is responsible for over 20 inventions. Some of these have been patented while others have been published. He is a recognized pioneer in the fabrication of plasma semiconductor devices, and his patent “Process for Controlling the Slope of a Via Hole” was an important contribution to the process of plasma etching. This procedure is now used by many semiconductor manufacturing companies. Alcorn was one of the first scientists to present a computer-modelling solution of wet etched and plasma etched structures, and he has received several cash prizes for his inventions of plasma-processing techniques.
Alcorn has been extensively involved in community service. In 1984, he was awarded a NASA-EEO medal for his contributions in recruiting minority and women scientists and engineers and his assistance to minority businesses in establishing research programs. He is a founder of Saturday Academy, which is a weekend honors program designed to supplement and extend math-science training for inner-city students in grades six to eight. Alcorn also works with the Meyerhoff Foundation, founded by Freeman Hrabowski, whose goal is to encourage and support African-American males interested in pursuing doctorates in science and engineering. Alcorn was honored by his alma mater Howard University in 1994 in its Heritage of Greatness awards ceremony. He was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2015.
After serving an extensive period as the Chief of the Office of Commercial Programs for the Goddard Space Flight Center, in 2005 Dr. Alcorn became Assistant Director for Standards/Excellence and Applied Engineering and Technology Directorate. He married Marie DaViller in 1969 and they have one son. His younger brother Charles is a research physicist at IBM.