J. Ernest Wilkins Jr. (Mechanical Engineer, Mathematician)

J. Ernest Wilkins Jr. was an African American nuclear scientist, mechanical engineer and mathematician. He attended the University of Chicago at the age of 13, becoming its youngest ever student. His intelligence led to him being referred to as a “negro genius” in the media.

As part of a widely varied and notable career, Wilkins contributed to the Manhattan Project during the Second World War. He also gained fame working in and conducting nuclear physics research in both academia and industry. He wrote numerous scientific papers, served in various important posts, earned several significant awards and helped recruit minority students into the sciences. His career spanned seven decades and included significant contributions to pure and applied mathematics, civil and nuclear engineering, and optics.

Despite his stature and fame during his various careers he was often the target of unchecked racism.