Warren Elliot Henry, 92, a professor emeritus at Howard University who rose from poverty on a peanut farm in Alabama to become a prominent researcher in magnetism and low-temperature physics, died of congestive heart failure Oct. 31 at Sibley Memorial Hospital. He lived in Washington.
Much of Dr. Henry's breakthrough work was accomplished from 1948 to 1960, while he was a supervisory researcher at the Naval Research Laboratory. His work there proved long-held theories about the properties of various substances.
During World War II, while working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he developed video amplifiers that were used in portable radar systems on warships.
At Howard, where he headed the physics department from 1968 to the late 1970s, he was credited with encouraging new generations of minority students to seek careers in the sciences. He remained at the university until recently, when his health failed.
Early in his career, Dr. Henry often had to talk his way into laboratories where African Americans were excluded.
"Dr. Henry made his own opportunities," said physicist Hattie Carwell, author of "Blacks in Science: Astrophysicist to Zoologist."
Among Dr. Henry's many honors was the National Science Foundation's Lifetime Achievement Award in Community Service.
Dr. Henry was born on a peanut and cotton farm in Evergreen, Ala. He told a biographer that he learned to read when he was 4 and would accompany his father on walks in the woods with the scientist George Washington Carver, who lived at the family farm for a summer performing research.
He would meet Carver again as a mentor, while Dr. Henry was a student at the Tuskegee Institute, from which he graduated with a bachelor's degree in mathematics in 1931.
He served as a principal at a segregated school in rural Alabama before graduating from Atlanta University with a master's degree in organic chemistry in 1937. He received a doctorate in physical chemistry from the University of Chicago in 1941.
Such degrees normally were a guarantee of a faculty position at a prestigious university, but Dr. Henry was crestfallen to learn that the only positions open to him were at historically black colleges.
He accepted a position at the Tuskegee Institute, where he taught courses to the 99th Pursuit Squadron -- an element of the famous Tuskegee Airmen.
Using a contact with an old University of Chicago classmate, he talked his way into a position in 1943 at MIT's radiation laboratory, where he was part of a team performing radar research.
He again used personal contacts to secure a position at the Naval Research Laboratory in the late 1940s. There, he used high-powered and precise magnets to determine the response of various materials, often at supercool temperatures. Those properties are important in technologies as wide-ranging as compact discs and automated teller machine cards.
In the 1950s, Dr. Henry took up the cause of some black truck drivers who were being paid lower wages than their white counterparts at the laboratory. Soon afterward, he told a biographer, he encountered problems with the research administration.
He left for a position in the 1960s at Lockheed Missiles and Space Co., where he supervised research into missile detection systems for submarines.
He returned to the Washington area in the 1960s to teach at Howard.
Dr. Henry was active in various science organizations. He was chairman of the American Physical Society's committee on minorities in physics. He also was a member of the Washington Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Physical Society.
In 1998, he was awarded the Lifetime Engineering Achievement in Industry Award from the National Society of Black Engineers. And in 1999, he was awarded the University of Chicago's Professional Achievement Citation.
His wife, Jean Pearlson Henry, died in 1980.
Survivors include a daughter, Eva R. Henry of Tampa; two sisters; and three brothers.