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Black Law Student Association

Black History Month: Dr. Percy Julian

February 06, 2018

Dr. Percy Julian was an African-American who obtained his BS in Chemistry from DePauw University in 1920. Although he entered DePauw as a “substandard freshman,” he graduated as the class valedictorian with Phi Beta Kappa honors. His first job was as an instructor at Fisk University. Julian left Fisk and obtained a master’s degree in chemistry from Harvard in 1928, and his PhD in 1931 from the University of Vienna, Austria. It was after his return to DePauw in 1933 that Julian conducted the research that led to the synthesis of physostigmine, a drug used in the treatment of glaucoma. Julian left DePauw in 1936 to become director of research of the Soya Products Division of the Glidden Company in Chicago. This position at Glidden made Julian the world’s first African – American to lead a research group in a major corporation. Dr. Julian rewarded Gliden’s faith in him by producing many new commercial products from soy beans.

An entrepreneur as well as a scientist, in 1953 he founded Julian Laboratories and later Julian Associates, Inc. and the Julian Research Institute. Over the course of his career he acquired over 115 patents, including one for a fire-extinguishing foam that was used on oil and gasoline fires during World War II. Though he had over 100 patents and 200 scientific publications, his most notable contribution was in the synthesis of steroids from soy and sweet potato products. Dr. Julian’s life and contributions were the subject of a recent biopic by NOVA/PBS entitled, “Forgotten Genius.” The film was broadcast nationally on February 6, 2007 on PBS TV stations.

Submitted by: Garry Brown, Jr. PhD.

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