Percy Lavon Julian: Organic chemist, entrepreneur, and civil rights activist.

Percy Lavon Julian was a pioneering African-American chemist whose contributions to the field of organic chemistry have revolutionized the world of medicine. He was born on April 11, 1899, in Montgomery, Alabama, in a family of six children. Julian grew up in a segregated society where opportunities for African Americans were limited, but he was a bright student who excelled in his studies.

Julian’s academic journey started at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1920. He then enrolled at Harvard University, where he completed his master’s degree in 1923 and his Ph.D. in organic chemistry in 1931. He was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry from Harvard and one of the few African Americans with a doctorate in the United States during that time.

Julian’s research work focused on synthesizing natural products that could be used to produce medicines. He began his career working for a chemical company called Glidden, where he discovered a new method for synthesizing cortisone, a hormone that is used to treat arthritis and other inflammatory diseases. His discovery made it possible to produce large quantities of cortisone, making the drug more affordable and widely available.

Julian then moved to his own company, Julian Laboratories, where he continued his research work. He synthesized physostigmine, a drug used to treat glaucoma, and progesterone, a hormone used in birth control pills. Julian’s work in synthesizing natural products led to the development of many important drugs that are still in use today.

Julian’s achievements in the field of organic chemistry were groundbreaking and significant, but he also faced many challenges and discrimination because of his race. He was denied job opportunities and access to research facilities, and he was not allowed to participate in professional organizations. Despite these challenges, Julian persevered and continued to make important contributions to his field.

Julian’s legacy extends far beyond his research work. He was a strong advocate for civil rights and worked to improve opportunities for African Americans in the sciences. He was also a mentor to many young scientists, particularly African American students, and he encouraged them to pursue careers in the sciences. Julian was an inspiration to many and remains a symbol of perseverance, dedication, and achievement.

In 1973, Julian passed away from liver cancer, but his contributions to the field of organic chemistry continue to impact the world today. His research work led to the development of many important drugs that have saved countless lives, and his advocacy for civil rights paved the way for future generations of African American scientists. He received many honors and awards during his lifetime, including induction into the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

WORDS: Scientific Inquirer Staff.

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