Julian, Percy Lavon

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Julian, Percy Lavon

Percy Lavon Julian, 1899–1975, African-American chemist, inventor, and businessman, b. Montgomery, Ala., grad. DePauw Univ. (A.B., 1920), Harvard (M.A., 1923), and the Univ. of Vienna (Ph.D., 1931). Faced with racial prejudice in his personal, academic, and professional life, Julian taught at Howard Univ. and DePauw, where he synthesized physostigmine, an alkaloid used to treat glaucoma, from the calabar bean. Despite this significant accomplishment, DePauw refused to give him a permanent faculty position, and he became (1936) a chief chemist at Chicago's Glidden Co. There he did significant work on the soybean; his achievements included the invention of a fire-retardant foam and the synthesis of cortisone, male and female sex hormones, and other substances. In 1953 he established his own company, Julian Laboratories, where he made important innovations in the production of synthetic steroids. After he sold the company in 1961, he established (1964) the Julian Research Institute. Julian, who held more than 100 patents, was also active in the civil-rights movement.

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