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St. Clair County Community College Library

African American Scientists

J. Ernest Wilkins (1923-2011)


J. Ernest Wilkins, Jr. 9

Image credit: Dan Dry [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

  • Nuclear scientist, engineer, and mathematician 
  • At age 13, became youngest student ever admitted to the Univerity of Chicago
  • Earned a PhD in Mathematics within 5 years.
  • Contributions to the field of theoretical physics include the 'Wilkins Effect', 'Wigner-Wilkins' and 'Wilkins' spectra, developed during his work with the Manhattan Project, where he served as  a physicist in its metallurgical laboratory. 
  • Worked on Project ORION, which explored the application of the use of nuclear bombs to propel rockets
  • Held multiple mathematics professorships over the course of his career
  • Published extensively on the mean number of real zeros for random Legendre, and trigonometric polynomials