An Unbelievable Journey From Cotton Field to Science Field

Event recording

2020, Florida

Professor Wilmer Waynes Nichols published his biography ‘A Life Remembered: Memories of a Sharecropper’s Son’

2009, Cambridge University

In October 2009, Wilmer received his Lifetime Achievement Award at Queens’ College, Cambridge University. His application of mathematics and physics in blood flow research led to classic textbooks in medical education and scientific discoveries that saved numerous lives.

In his spare time, Wilmer loves music, racing, flying, and bungee jumping. 

But Wilmer’s formal education did not start well. Born and raised in Mississippi in the middle of the Great Depression, he dropped out of high school at the age of 17.

So what did Wilmer do?  

1961, NASA

In the year 1961, Wilmer was working with NASA  on Project Mercury, the US’s first human spaceflight program. There were other groups involved in calculating the trajectories of these missiles too, including the female mathematicians portrayed in the movie ‘Hidden Figures’. 

After working non-stop for a year, he decided to take a vacation and visit a friend who handed him a big thick textbook on medical physiology. He thumbed through the book and found it pretty interesting. The idea to apply mathematics and physics in heart circulation emerged.

So what did Wilmer do?

1958, ‘I Aim at the Stars’

In the fall of the year 1958, then NASA director Wernher Von Braun gave a talk in Delta State College where Wilmer was studying. The presentation title was “I Aim at the Stars’. Wilmer got so excited and thrilled with what was said that he went straight to the school asking to change his major to Math and Physics. The staff told him it was not a good idea since he only had 1.5 years left to graduate.

So what did Wimer do?

The Great Depression, Mississippi

Wilmer was the youngest (and last) of seven boys and three girls in a Mississippi cotton-picker family. Everyone worked in the field from sun-up to sun-down, 12 hours a day, six days a week. Wilmer could only attend school for half a year as he had to help out the family during the other half. In 1950 he dropped out of school. In August 1951, he was going to join the Navy in the middle of the American Korean War.

So what did Wilmer do?


6 December 2020

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