Alice Ball (1892-1916) was the first African American woman to earn a PhD in Chemistry in 1915. At the age of 24 she became a research chemist and instructor at the University of Hawaii.
Alice Ball is most known for developing an effective cure for leprosy – a disease that had haunted humanity for hundreds of years. At the beginning of the 20th century, leprosy was treated by injecting an infected individual with chaulmoogra oil derived from an Indian plant. However, the oil would clump in the body and not distribute evenly, causing severe pain and dosage issues. She came up with a way of keeping the oil liquid while in the body and thus revolutionized treatment.
Sadly, Alice Ball died an untimely death, most likely caused by chlorine poisoning, which she suffered after dropping the chemical in class. After her death, she shared her fate with many female scientists as the cure was falsely attributed to another male scientist at the institute. It took another 6 years, until this mistake was rectified and the method was renamed the “Ball Method” in her honor.