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Tyler, Sylvanus Alexander, Sr. (1914-1986)

Sylvanus Alexander Tyler, mathematician and biostatistician, was born on August 21, 1914 to Daniel and Jesse Tyler. Tyler was raised in Chicago, Illinois along with his two younger brothers, Homer and Daniel, all of whom attended the city’s public schools. Tyler received his bachelor’s degree from Fisk University in 1936 and two years later he received his master’s from the University of Chicago with his thesis The Projective Generation of Curves.

Like many educated blacks of his time Tyler went south to teach, first at Tougaloo College in Mississippi for the 1940-1941 school year and then at Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University for the next school year.  He married his wife Adelaide Butler on May 12, 1942 and on October 15th he enlisted in the U. S. Army.  Private Tyler served with the Signal Corps in Italy and remained in the army for the duration of the war.  

With his return from war, Tyler and his wife moved back to Chicago and had two children, Sylvia and Sylvanus, Jr. Tyler was hired at the Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago working on cutting edge scientific research.  When he began at Argonne he was assigned to assist the Division of Biological and Medical Research with planning experiments efficiently; Tyler quickly moved on to heading his own projects, specifically on the study of decay rates and the effects of radiation. Tyler worked with many of the time’s greatest scientific minds, including the Nobel laureate Arthur Compton with whom Tyler studied cosmic rays.  

Tyler quickly became known for his work on creating statistical models to predict biological conditions, such as the effect of radiation on bodily decay and mortality. Most of the 75 articles he wrote for scholarly journals were on such topics, as was his 1964 publication Accumulation of Acute Injury on the Mouse Subjected to Split or Fractioned Doses of X-Radiation or Gamma Radiation. In addition to his scientific work Tyler also participated in other statistical surveys as in the 1940s when he helped to compile statistics for the 1945 book by St. Clair Drake and Horace Cayton, Jr., Black Metropolis: a Study of Negro Life in a Northern City.

Tyler retired from Argonne in 1980 after 34 years in scientific research. He continued to provide statistical consultation to Argonne, as well as to the Universities of California, Maryland and North Carolina, and the U.S. Department of the Interior until his death. Sylvanus Tyler died on July 23, 1986 at his home in Chicago. He was 71.

“Atom Scientists: Ten Negro Scientists at Argonne lab Help in Race to Harness Atomic Materials for Peaceful Use” Ebony (September 1949); “Sylvanus A. Tyler Sr.,” Chicago Tribune (July 26 1986); American Men of Science (New York: R. R. Bowker, 1965); The National Archives, World War Two Army Enlistment Records, 9/30/02.


University of Washington, Seattle

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