Club History Moment: Hidden Figures of Innovation 2

Thursday, February 11, 2021 By: Monica M Smith
Club Historian Monica Smith introduces us to two more "Hidden Figures of Innovation."

Thanks again, President Nancy, for giving me the opportunity to highlight a few of the countless stories of “Hidden Figures of Innovation” in honor of Black History Month. Today, I’d like to introduce two contemporary women who are only in their 30s but have already made important impacts on medicine and sustainable infrastructure, respectively. 

Primarily, I will talk about DR. KIZZMEKIA “KIZZY” CORBETT. Born January 26, 1986, Dr. Corbett is a research fellow and the scientific lead for the Coronavirus Vaccines Team at the National Institutes of Health (NIH)’s Vaccine Research Center here in Bethesda, Maryland. She grew up in Hillsborough, North Carolina, with her mom and a large family of stepsiblings and foster siblings. Corbett earned a BS in Biological Sciences and Sociology in 2008 from the University of Maryland–Baltimore County, where she was an NIH undergraduate scholar and also a Meyerhoff Scholar [note: the UMBC Meyerhoff Scholars Program aims to increase diversity among future leaders in science, technology, engineering and related fields]After earning her undergraduate degree, Corbett spent three years as a biological sciences trainer at NIH and then earned a PhD in Microbiology and Immunology at University of North Carolina­–Chapel Hill in 2014.

Appointed to NIH’s Vaccine Research Center (VRC) that same year, “her work focuses on developing novel coronavirus vaccines, including mRNA-1273, which was rapidly deployed to industry partner, Moderna, Inc.…Alongside mRNA-1273, Dr. Corbett’s team boasts a portfolio that also includes universal coronavirus vaccine concepts and novel therapeutic antibodies. Additionally, Dr. Corbett spent several years working on a universal influenza vaccine…. [and] studying dengue virus…. Along with her research activities, Dr. Corbett is an active member of the NIH Fellows Committee and avid advocator of STEM education and vaccine awareness in the community.”Kizzmekia S. Corbett, Ph.D. |

In December 2020, Dr. Anthony Fauci said: “Kizzy is an African American scientist who is right at the forefront of the development of the vaccine.”— Kizzmekia Corbett, an African American woman, is praised as key scientist behind COVID-19 vaccine - ABC News (     

She has also spoken up about racism in both science and politics. According to The Washington Post“On Feb. 27, [2020] Corbett posted a tweet that lamented the lack of diversity on President Trump’s coronavirus task force: ‘The task force is largely people (white men) he appointed to their positions as director of blah blah institute. They are indebted to serve him NOT the people.’ And, as public health officials were reporting startling data that showed that the virus was disproportionately killing African Americans, Corbett vented on Twitter, ‘I tweet for the people who will die when doctors has [sic] to choose who gets the last ventilator and ultimately…who lives,’ she wrote March 29.” Kizzmekia Corbett is leading NIH's team to find a coronavirus vaccine - The Washington Post

To read more about Dr. Corbett: Meet The Black Woman Taking the Lead to Develop a Vaccine For COVID-19 (

Finally, I would also like to briefly introduce inventor JESSICA O. MATTHEWS, partly as a shameless plug for the Smithsonian Lemelson Center’s “Innovative Lives” program I’m moderating today on Zoom at 4 p.m.
Matthews is the Founder and CEO of Uncharted Power, an award-winning, sustainable infrastructure company. Born February 13, 1988 [happy birthday week!], Matthews grew up in Poughkeepsie, New York, and is a dual citizen of the United States and Nigeria.

Matthews earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Economics from Harvard University, an MBA from Harvard Business School, and is listed on over 12 patents and patents pending.

Her career started at the age of 19 with her invention of the SOCCKET, an energy-generating soccer ball. She was inspired to create this by an experience attending her aunt's wedding in Nigeria. When the electricity went out and diesel generators were turned on to keep the lights on, Matthews recognized the health hazard posed from fumes and decided to try to do something about it.  So with a Harvard classmate she created Soccket, a soccer ball that stores kinetic energy as it’s used. A half-hour of kicking around the ball generates enough energy to power a small, attachable LED light for three hours, so that after playing soccer children in developing countries have a reading light for doing their homework after dark.

At the age of 22, Matthews founded Uncharted Power as a power solutions company with a focus on developing a broader range of kinetic-energy-storing products. This shift included trademarking MORE, an acronym for Motion-based Off-grid Renewable Energy, a system which uses Soccket's energy-storing method in consumer products. She describes MORE technology as “an energy-harvesting and emanating building block system that can be seamlessly integrated into various infrastructures, objects, and products—everything from floor panels, streets, speedbumps, and sidewalks, to subway turnstiles, strollers, shopping carts, and beyond.”

Matthews’ success in entrepreneurship led to a White House invitation from President Barack Obama to represent small companies for the signing of the America Invents Act in 2012. In 2016, she raised what was at the time the largest Series A round of funding [$7M] ever raised by a black female founder in history and was selected to ring the NASDAQ opening ceremony bell, representing all Forbes 30 Under 30 alumni. To read more about Matthews: