George Carruthers – Black History Month

George Carruthers

George Carruthers is an African-American inventor, physicist, and space scientist, best known for creating inventions such as the ultraviolet camera, or spectograph, which was used by NASA in the 1972 Apollo 16 flight.


As one of only a handful of African-Americans competing in Chicago’s high school science fairs, he won three awards, including first prize for a telescope that he designed and built, of which he was inspired by his late father to compete in.

In 1957, Carruthers graduated from Chicago’s Englewood High School and entered the engineering program at the University of Illinois’ Champaign-Urbana campus with a focus in aerospace engineering and astronomy. He would continue his education there, receiving his masters and PhD in nuclear engineering and astronautical engineering.


In 1964, Carruthers went to work as a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow for the Naval Research Laboratory. He later joined the NRL full time at the NRL’s E. O. Hurlburt Center for Space Research.

In 1969, Carruthers was awarded a patent for his “Image Converter for Detecting Electromagnetic Radiation Especially in Short Wave Lengths”, the UV telescope, or spectograph, and image converter that provided the first proof of the existence of molecular hydrogen in  space. During the first lunar walk of the Apollo 16 mission, scientists were able to examine the Earth’s atmosphere for concentrations of pollutants, and see UV images of over 550 stars, nebulae and galaxies.


Carruthers was inducted into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame for his work in science and engineering. He was also awarded NASA’s Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal for his work on the Apollo 16 mission. He is also a recipient of the Arthur S. Flemming Award, an Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal from NASA,  and the Warner Prize from the American Astronomical Society.