Google is on a roll, using Friday as a chance to serve up another one of its fun (and educational) doodles. This time it’s celebrating the birthday of the noted African-American chemist Percy Lavon Julian, who would have turned 115 today.
Julian was the first black scientist to be inducted into the National Academy of Sciences, and he had the accomplishments to back up his induction, having pioneered a number of advancements in the field of chemistry.
A graduate of Indiana’s DePauw University, Julian is credited with synthesizing chemicals from plants to make medicine. His discoveries led to treatments for glaucoma, as well as other inflammatory afflictions. One of his bigger accomplishments was successfully synthesizing hormones from soybean oil to help create an effective substitute for cortisone. His relatively inexpensive cortisone synthesis was the key to making rheumatoid arthritis treatment more accessible to all.
Of course, Julian, who was born in Montgomery, Ala., to former slaves in 1899, suffered racial prejudice as he tried to progress in his career. He was denied access to education, as well as work in his field, because of his race.
After graduating from DePauw, for example, Julian had his eye on completing his doctorate—something that was incredibly difficult to obtain as an African American at the time. He was finally allowed to attend Harvard University via a fellowship program, and he completed his Master of Science degree there but was barred from the school’s Ph.D. program.
Determined as he was, though, Julian was able to receive another fellowship—after teaching at historically black colleges for several years—and continue his graduate work at the University of Vienna, where he finally completed his Ph.D. He was among the first African Americans to achieve this goal.
He eventually went on to establish his own laboratory in 1954 called Julian Laboratories. He died in 1975, with more than 100 chemical patents to his name.
Julian was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1990.