Lonnie Johnson (1949–)
What He Invented: The Super Soaker
Why It’s Important: The Super Soaker may have been a child’s toy, but it is a great example of an invention with a multimillion-dollar impact. The Super Soaker generated $200 million in annual retail sales and turned the Mobile, Ala., native into a millionaire. He’s now using his fortune to develop energy technology.
What He Invented: The Imaging X-Ray Spectrometer
Why It’s Important: The Imaging X-Ray Spectrometer allowed scientists to examine materials that could not be broken down into smaller parts for study, revolutionizing the way NASA was able to conduct research. As a result of the significance of this work, in 1984 he was the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Inventor of the Year. Two years later he also developed an improved method of fabrication using laser drilling.