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Tue, 04.11.1899

Dr. Percy L. Julian, Chemist born

Dr. Percy L. Julian

Dr. Percy Lavon Julian was born on this date in 1899.  He was a Black research chemist and a pioneer in the chemical synthesis of drugs used in medicine.

Born in Montgomery, Alabama, the grandson of a former slave, Julian had limited schooling because Montgomery provided no public education for Blacks after the eighth grade. He entered DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, as a 'sub-freshman' and, though ill-prepared, graduated in 1920 as class valedictorian with Phi Beta Kappa honors. He received an M.S. degree from Harvard three years later and a Ph.D. degree from the University of Vienna in 1931.

Dr. Julian taught chemistry at several universities and conducted research for private industries for many years before founding his own research firm, Julian Laboratories, Inc., in 1953.  His first major scientific contribution, in 1935, was the synthesis of physostigmine, the drug used in the treatment of glaucoma.

He also worked on biomedical projects, developing steroids from the soybean and synthesizing progesterone (female hormone), testosterone (male hormone), and cortisone. His work made possible the production of these drugs in large quantities, reducing the cost of treating hormonal deficiencies, arthritis, and other disorders.

Later in his career, Julian developed a soybean protein to be used as a coating for paper and as an ingredient in fire-extinguisher foam. In 1947 the NAACP awarded him its highest honor, the Spingarn Medal. Dr. Julian was also elected to the National Academy of Sciences. In 1964, he founded Julian Associates and Julian Research Institute, which he managed for the rest of his life.  Percy Julian died on April 19, 1975

African Americans/Voices of Triumph
by Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Copyright 1993, TimeLife Inc.

To become a Chemist


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