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Reatha Clark King played a pivotal role in America’s space race. Her invention of a coiled tube to cool rocket fuel was a crucial advance in the nation’s space program, and she published leading research on oxygen difluoride, now a standard ingredient in rocket fuel.


The daughter of sharecroppers, King was born April 11, 1938, in Pavo, Georgia. She earned her undergraduate degree from Clark College in Atlanta before pursuing advanced studies in thermochemistry at the University of Chicago. King became the first Black woman to earn graduate degrees in Chemistry from UChicago when she received her master’s degree in 1960 and her PhD in 1963. She also has an MBA from Columbia University.


Her contributions to America’s space program were made during her tenure at the National Bureau of Standards’ Advanced Research Projects Agency. She then became an assistant professor and later associate dean at York College in Jamaica, New York. In 1977, she became the second president of Metropolitan State University in Minneapolis. The latter part of her career was spent as vice president of General Mills and president and executive director of General Mills Foundation. She now serves as a Life Trustee for the University of Chicago. 

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Chemistry alumna (PhD'63) and first Black female chemist at the National Bureau of Standards, played a pivotal role in the space race

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Photo Source: University of Chicago Photographic Archive, [apf1-13670], Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

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