Former Fermilab physicist, professor Dr. Herman B. White honored in Museum of Science and Industry exhibit

ByHosea Sanders and Marissa Isang via WLS logo
Thursday, February 20, 2020
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Dr. Herman B. White, Jr. is the first African American to have an equation named for him, a part of living history that is featured in a Museum of Science and Industry exhibit.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A Chicago area physicist, the first African-American in history to have a scientific equation that bears his name, is being honored in an exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry.

"You have to start with what I consider the simple stuff before you get to the complicated stuff," said Dr. Herman B. White, Jr.

Now a North Central College Board Trustee, Dr. White spent 45 years conducting particle physics experiments at Fermilab.

"To do particle physics experiments, that means you design the experiment, you get a number of engineers to help you build the experiments and then over some period years you take the data to execute and then you analyze the experiment for a few more years," he explained. "At the end you tell the world what you've done."

White said his work on neutrino particles is purely academic and not intended to find a specific solution to a certain problem. However, it is essential to the possibility of new discoveries in the future.

"What we do is ask the most fundamental questions that you can ask in nature. Why are we here? How is it that particles interact, why does the sun work the way it does?" White said. "One of the better answers to many of the question like this is, if you had discovered the electron, could you have predicted the iPhone? The answers is no, you could not predict the iPhone, but you had to understand that was a thing called the electron."

His work earned him the honor of having a scientific equation to bear his name.

"I know people made a great deal about the Stefanski and White formula for neutrino production. I said that very fast, but in those days we did not go about getting a name on a formula. We basically just did the work," White said.

Now that work is on display at the Museum of Science and Industry as part of the 50th anniversary celebration of the Black Creativity Exhibit.

"We have great individuals doing great things that are still alive, and some of the young people need to see them as much as they see the icons that I know very strongly, that I grew up with," said White. "Sometimes it can motivate a young person in ways you could never imagine."

White has also been an adjunct professor at North Central in Naperville since 1994. He said he loves working side-by-side with the next generation of great minds.