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Juneteenth Celebration at The Tech Museum to Mark the Revolutionary Achievements of African American Innovators in Silicon Valley

Press Release Date 
Monday, June 11, 2012

Educators, scientists, and innovators converge on the museum June 16 for day of recognition, engagement and inspiration

SAN JOSE – He is the first African American to earn a doctorate from the Applied Physics department at Stanford University. He holds more than 46 patents in lasers and optoelectronics and has authored more than 110 publications. And during his 15 years at what is now known as PARC, a Xerox company, he pioneered the development of new semiconductor lasers and photonic devices for high-speed, high-resolution laser printing.

Yet, Robert Lawrence Thornton’s name doesn’t figure prominently in Silicon Valley’s vaunted annals of high-tech innovation. But that’s about to change.

Thornton’s works will be front and center June 16th at The Tech Museum during a free, daylong Juneteenth celebration marking the accomplishments of notable African Americans in science and technology in and around the valley. Thornton, who died of cancer in October and was hailed by Physics Today as “One of the few authentic entrepreneurs who successfuly combined scientific and technical talent,” will be recognized by his close friend Christopher Chua, principal scientist at PARC.

“Robert was so passionate about science and technology and constantly thought about relevance to commercial impact when inventing and developing new technology,” Chua said. Thornton pioneered many innovations at PARC, including a multi-beam, edge-emitting semiconductor laser and a vertical-cavity, surface-emitting laser. Thornton's inventions enabled significant increases in print speed for products such as laser printers.

As part of the annual program, a timely panel discussion on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education will be lead by Deputy State Superintendent of Public Instruction William Ellerbee and Juan Gilbert, chair of human-centered computing at Clemson University (by video). STEM education is believed to be the key to unlock doors for students who represent a new workforce of problem-solvers, innovators, and inventors who are self-reliant and able to think logically in 21st-century society.

VC Taskforce CEO June Riley will moderate presentations from African-American innovators from around the country such as 510Nano CEO Reginald Parker, Craig Williams of Sciberus, Right Direction Technology Solutions CEO Joey Hutchins and Phil Dillard, developer of a clean-tech incubator. Attendees will also be encouraged to network with and share their stories of innovation with panelists and other special guests.

Museum President Tim Ritchie said it is fitting for the museum to host the free program for the second year in a row. “Two of our core values are to embrace diversity and to value our local community,” Ritchie said. “Juneteenth provides a great opportunity to live up to our ideals by taking part in the local celebration of African Americans who helped to create some of the groundbreaking innovations that helped transform Silicon Valley – and the world.”

The museum event is presented in conjunction with Juneteenth celebrations in San Jose and around the country. Juneteenth is remembered in commemoration with the ending of slavery in the United States. Though President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation to be effective by January 1, 1863, it had little effect to slaves in the Confederate States of the U.S.

Juneteenth represents June 18 and 19, 1865 when Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to take over the state and enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. Former slaves in Galveston rejoiced in the streets with jubilant celebrations. Juneteenth celebrations began in Texas the following year.

Saturday, June 16, 10:00 a.m. - 3 p.m.

New Venture Hall inside the museum - Free and open to the public

Roqua Montez
Director Public Relations
(408) 795-6225

About The Tech Museum
The Tech Museum is a hands-on technology and science museum for people of all ages and backgrounds. The museum—located in the Capital of Silicon Valley —is a non-profit learning resource established to engage people in exploring and experiencing technologies affecting their lives. Through programs such as The Tech Challenge presented by Cisco, our annual team-design competition for youth, and internationally renowned programs such as The Tech Awards presented by Applied Materials, Inc., The Tech Museum endeavors to inspire the innovator in everyone.