Dr. Betty Harris was born in Louisiana to Legertha Thompson Wright and Henry Hudson Wright in 1940. Even at a young age, she was interested in chemistry. She grew up in a large family with eleven brothers and sisters. They lived in a community highly involved in church and lived on a farm. (African American History Program, 2012).
She pursued a chemistry degree in college and received both a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree in chemistry. After getting her master’s degree she got a job working as a college assistant professor in the chemistry and mathematics department. She then began working with the Los Alamos National Laboratory and ended up becoming a research chemist and became known as an expert in her field. Among many of her accomplishments, one of them was helping the Girl Scouts develop a chemistry merit badge. However, she is most well-known for her invention of a device that could perform tests in a field environment to identify explosives. (Famous black inventors, 2008).
She eventually began to work in explosives research and development. She managed the lab at Solar Turbine Inc for a while before going to work for the U.S. Department of Energy Office. Harris also received the Governor’s Trailblazer Award for all of her chemistry-related achievements. And last, but certainly not least, Harris strongly advocated for a stronger education in science and engineering, she states, “As a nation we must continue to provide a comprehensive and competitive education in science and engineering for our young people. We must always encourage and support them, for without research and development, progress in technology and information transfer will not occur.” (African American History Program, 2012).