Dr. Percy Julian
The Negro scientist now need neither to starve nor be condemned to a frustrating intellectual ghetto if he chooses pure science as a career, and one can see a promising future for his fresh and uninhibited imaginative power.
Born in 1899 in Montgomery, Alabama, Dr. Percy Julian's research yielded more than 100 patents. He created derivative drugs to treat glaucoma and arthritis at a reasonable cost. His research on the soybean led to discoveries in the manufacture of drugs, hormones, vitamins, paint and paper. Educated at DePauw and Harvard universities and the University of Vienna, he eventually returned to a teaching position at DePauw.
In addition to teaching, Dr. Julian started his research at DePauw and in 1935, he made his first important discovery. He gained international recognition when he synthesized physostigmine, a chemical used in the treatment of glaucoma. Despite being a renowned scientist, he was denied a professorship because of his race. He left DePauw to become director of research at the Glidden Company, a paint and varnish manufacturer.
At Glidden, he focused on soybean research, which had intrigued him while he was at the University of Vienna. He created a process which isolated the proteins from soybeans, and used them in the manufacture of paper coatings, water-based paints and textile sizings. During World War II, he also isolated a soya protein to produce AeroFoam, which was used to extinguish gasoline and oil fires.
Not limited to paint research by Glidden, Dr, Julian continued to be fascinated by soybean chemistry and started a project on synthesizing hormones. Dr. Julian succeeded in synthesizing progesterone and testosterone, the female and male hormones, by extracting sterols from soybean oil.
However, his most important contribution to medical research was probably for his synthesis of cortisone, which dramatically reduced its price. Cortisone is highly effective in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. Dr. Julian's discovery brought the price of cortisone down from hundreds of dollars per drop to a few pennies per gram. His discovery brought welcome relief, from physical and financial pain, to many patients who otherwise could not afford this medication.
Black Pioneers of Science and Invention, Louis Haber. Harcourt Brace Jovanivich, 1970.
The Hidden Contributors: Black Scientists and Inventors in America, Aaron E. Klein. Doubleday, 1971.
Buy it in hardcover: Amazon.com
Outward Dreams: Black Inventors and Their Inventions, Jim Haskins. Walker & Co., 1991.
Search for 'Percy Julian' on Amazon.com or Amazon.ca.
A Science Odyssey: People and Discoveries: Percy Julian
Engines of Our Ingenuity: No. 659: Percy Julian
Percy L. Julian High School
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