Percy Lavon Julian

Percy Lavon Julian

Just before the turn of the century, Percy Lavon Julian was born in Montgomery, Alabama. He was a bright student, but at that time the city provided no public education for black students after eighth grade. He persisted, however, and entered DePauw University in Indiana as a “sub-freshman.” He had to take several classes to get caught up on what his public education had not provided. Yet in 1920, he graduated first in his class with Phi Beta Kappa honors.

He became a chemistry instructor at Fisk University, but in 1923, received an Austin Fellowship in Chemistry and went to Harvard to complete his masters degree. Again he took university teaching positions for a few years before traveling to Austria to obtain his PhD in chemistry from the University of Vienna in 1931. He returned to DePauw to continue his research. His original interest was investigating plant products, especially traditional medicinal plants such as the African calabar bean. In 1935, with Josef Pikl, he first synthesized from this plant a chemical called physostigmine, or esserine, which could treat the sometimes blinding disease of glaucoma by reducing pressure inside the eyeball. This brought him international scientific acclaim, but no professorship. Click here to learn more.

To watch a NOVA documentary on Mr. Lavon, click here.

Donna

 

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Posted on April 26, 2014, in Research. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Percy Lavon Julian.

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