Black Inventor - Henry Cecil McBay - Black History and Literature Library
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    Black Inventor - Henry Cecil McBay

    Henry Ransom Cecil McBay was from Mexia, TX.  He received a Bachelor of Science from Wiley College in 1934, a Master of Science from Atlanta University in 1936, and a Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Chicago in 1945.  He was an instructor of chemistry at Wiley College from 1936 to 1938, then an instructor at Western University, Kansas City.   In 1944 and 1945, he won the Elizabeth Norton prize at the University of Chicago for outstanding research in chemistry.

    Four years later, he was awarded a $5,000 grant from the Research Corp. of New York for research on chemical compounds. A chemical compound is a chemical substance formed from two or more elements, with a fixed ratio determining the composition. For example, dihydrogen monoxide (water, H2O) is a compound composed of two hydrogen atoms for every oxygen atom.

    In general, this fixed ratio must be fixed due to some sort of physical property, rather than an arbitrary man-made selection. This is why materials such as brass, the superconductor YBCO, the semiconductor aluminium gallium arsenide, or chocolate are considered mixtures or alloys rather than compounds. A defining characteristic of a compound is that it has a chemical formula. Formulas describe the ratio of atoms in a substance, and the number of atoms in a single molecule of the substance.

    The formula does not indicate that a compound is composed of molecules; for example, sodium chloride (table salt, NaCl) is an ionic compound. Compounds may have a number of possible phases.  Most compounds can exist as solids.  Molecular compounds may also exist as liquids or gases. All compounds will decompose to smaller compounds or individual atoms if heated to a certain temperature (called the decomposition temperature).

    McBay served as a technical expert on a United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization mission to Liberia in 1951.  He was the first recipient of research funding from George Washington Carver's donation to Tuskegee Institute for research on extraction of fibers from okra.  He found the process impossible and "researched myself out of a job," he said.

    From 1945 to 1981, McBay was a member of the teaching faculty at Morehouse College, beginning as an instructor and advancing to full professor.  Professor McBay served as chairman of the Department of Chemistry for 11 years during that time.  He was appointed Fuller E. Callaway Professor of Chemistry at Atlanta University in 1982, and became professor emeritus of chemistry at Clark Atlanta University in 1986. More than 45 of his students went on to receive doctorates in chemistry. He has published numerous articles in scientific journals.

    Dr. McBay was assistant director of the Program for Research Integration and Support for Matriculation to the Doctorate at Clark Atlanta University while continuing to teach chemistry up to the time of his death in July 1995.

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