As a fifty year member of the American Chemical Society, Dr. Betty Harris has been a teacher and researcher since earning her BS in chemistry from Southern University at the age of 19.
Earning her MS degree in chemistry from Atlanta University, she began a ten year span of teaching as an assistant professor of chemistry and mathematics at Southern University, Colorado College, and Mississippi Valley State University. She then returned to her own educational pursuits earning a doctorate in chemistry from the University of New Mexico.
She was then hired as a research chemist as Los Alamos National Laboratory, where she worked for more than twenty years. Her research was in the area of hazardous waste treatment and environmental restoration of facilities contaminated with energetic materials which can include explosives, propellants, and fuels. This work included development of safing fluids which are used on spilled explosives to make them safe for clean-up.
During her time at Los Alamos she became an expert in the chemistry of explosives, working with high explosives research and development. She synthesized and characterized new insensitive high explosives and determined the sensitivity of weathered high explosives. In 1986 she developed a methodology for detecting 1,3,5-triamino-2,4,6-trinitrobenzene (TATB) in the field for which she was granted a U.S. patent. This test can be used to spot test for explosives during criminal investigations.
Taking a leave of absence from the lab, Harris was appointed the chief of chemical technology for Solar Turbine Incorporated. She was responsible for the management of the technical laboratories and investigation of cold-end corrosion of super alloys caused by sulfuric acid and soot in gas turbine engines. At the end of her career she spent eleven years working as a certified document reviewer at the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Classification.
A recipient of the New Mexico Governor’s Trailblazer award, she is also a strong advocate for girls in science-Dr. Betty Harris help the Girls Scouts of the United States develop a chemistry merit badge.
Written by Angela Goad