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Celebrating Black History Month: Black Women Who Made Medicine What It Is Today

Arnelle Etienne, Leitsel Jones, Nina Woodley

Electroencephalograms (EEGs) detect electrical activity in the brain and can be used for neuroscience research and to diagnose neurological disorders. Electrodes are placed on the scalp to help detect the electrical signals. However, the EEG caps that have been historically used have not been suitable for Black hair or hairstyles. This has to do with the EEG device’s design and the lack of training that EEG administrators have with different hair types and textures. 

Arnelle Etienne is a research associate at Carnegie Mellon University, and she came up with an idea to make EEGs more accessible for Black hair. In her design, the electrodes that measure the brain activity would come with dragonfly wing-like clips to insert into the hair. This would help hold the electrodes close to the scalp. 

Leitsel Jones, a neuroscience doctoral student, and Nina Woodley, a hairstylist, were also interested in developing ways to make EEGs work better with Black hair. Their idea was to come up with hairstyles that would help make the experience of receiving an EEG more comfortable for Black folks. They’ve been working on a guide to synthesize their ideas and to help inform EEG administrators about how to work with Black hair.

Together, these women began transforming the way that neuroscience research and EEG administration for diagnoses are done.

Dr. Angella D. Ferguson 

Dr. Angella D. Ferguson initially started her career as a physician and researcher focusing on pediatric care, specifically in understanding the normal development of African American children. Since most of the research that was available at the time was based on white children, she was unable to provide her patients with the quality of care that she wanted, so she was tasked with gathering her baseline data. 

Through her work, she realized that many of the African American patients had sickle cell anemia. Sickle cell anemia is when red blood cells are crescent-shaped instead of donut-shaped, so they do not flow properly through the blood vessels. This can be painful and lead to several additional health issues. Through her work, she created guidelines for diagnosing sickle cell anemia in children, which has become a standard in many American states. She also informed the way that patients with sickle cell anemia can receive better care when undergoing medical procedures.

Dr. Patricia E. Bath

Dr. Patricia E. Bath was an ophthalmologist, laser scientist, innovative research scientist and advocate for blindness prevention, treatment, and cure. Her accomplishments include the invention of a new device and technique for cataract surgery known as laserphaco. When she first developed the idea for the laserphaco probe, the technology was unavailable to bring it to fruition. It took her nearly five years to complete the research and testing needed to make it work and apply for a patent. Today, the device is used worldwide. She is the first female physician to receive a patent for an invention

When Dr. Bath was a resident in ophthalmology, she was one of the first to observe and document that Black patients had higher rates of glaucoma. She also recognized that the high prevalence of blindness among Black patients was due to a lack of access to ophthalmic care. In a paper in 1976, she proposed the discipline of Community Ophthalmology, combining public health, community medicine, and clinical and daycare programs to test vision and screen threatening eye conditions in historically underserved communities. In the same year, she co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness, designed to protect, preserve, and restore sight through education, community service, research, and eye care services. 


Charles-Ford, S. (2021, June 14). Angella Dorothea Ferguson (1925- ) •. Black Past. 

Etienne, A., Laroia, T., Weigle, H., Afelin, A., Kelly, S. K., Krishnan, A., & Grover, P. (2020). Novel Electrodes for Reliable EEG Recordings on Coarse and Curly Hair. 

Patricia Bath. Patricia Bath | The National Inventors Hall of Fame. (n.d.). 

Richardson, L. (2021, August 3). EEG hair project - hello brain lab: The UCF Brain Lab. Hello Brain Lab: the UCF BRaIN Lab - Helen J. Huang’s Lab. 

Staff, R. (2020, September 13). Angella Dorothea Ferguson, pioneer in sickle cell anemia research & pediatrician. Medium. 

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