Google Doodle honors pioneering chemist who looked to the natural world for new medicines


Percy Julian Google Doodle April 11, 2014


Did you notice last Friday’s Google doodle? It was an homage to Percy Lavon Julian, a pioneer in the art and science of isolating powerful medicines from natural sources. He would have been 115 years old last week.

Born in 1899, Julian succeeded as a chemist despite the racial climate of his time. As David Kroll reports in Forbes, when Julian attended DePauw University:

[H]e and other black students were not permitted to live in the dormitories and finding off-campus housing was difficult. 

After graduating:

In 1923, he earned a fellowship to conduct graduate work in chemistry at Harvard, but was only permitted to earn a master’s degree. The administration withdrew his teaching assistantship, arguing that Harvard students from the South would not tolerate being taught by a Negro, no matter how accomplished.

Despite the constant hardships, Julian did go on to earn a doctorate in Europe. His work with soybeans and the calabar bean would lead to new treatments for glaucoma and rheumatoid arthritis. And his studies of steroids — again, starting with soybeans — would help bring about birth control pills and drugs to keep the immune system in check in organ transplant patients.

Read more about Julian in the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and Time.


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