James Andrew Harris was a nuclear chemist who was involved in the discovery of elements 104 and 105. Harris is known for being the first African American to contribute to the discovery of new elements.
Harris was born on March 26, 1932, in Waco, Texas. His parents divorced when he was young, after which he moved to Oakland, California with his mother where he attended high school.
After graduating high school, Harris returned to Texas where he attended Huston-Tillotson College in Austin. He studied chemistry and received a bachelor of science degree in 1953. In 1975, Harris received a master’s degree in Public Administration at California State University, Hayward. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from Huston-Tillotson College in 1973 for his co-discovery of rutherfordium and dubnium.
There was some minor controversy over the element discovery as Russian teams made a similar discovery. A compromise was made with the names. Element 104 was offered by the Americans after British physicist Ernest Rutherford, and element 105 named after the Russian city of Dubna where that research team worked.
Harris worked in chemical research for Tracerlab Inc. for five years. After that, he went to work in the Nuclear Chemistry department of the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory at the University of California-Berkeley working on isotope division. In 1977, Harris was promoted to head of the Head of Engineering and Technical Services Division at Lawrence. Harris retired from his work in the lab in 1988. James A. Harris died in 2000 at the age of 65.