Percy Lavon Julian

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Percy Lavon Julian (born April 11, 1899 in Montgomery , Alabama , † April 21, 1975 in Waukegan , Illinois ) was an African-American chemist and civil rights activist .

As a chemist, he made great contributions in the field of natural product chemistry . So he succeeded and his research group in 1935, the rare drug physostigmine , an antidote of hyoscyamine , synthetically produce. This chemical compound was then used for the medical treatment of glaucoma and at that time could only be obtained from the calabar bean . In 1949 his efforts to synthetically produce the steroid hydrocortisone were successful .


A college to begin -Education, pulled Percy Lavon Julian, the grandson of a former slave , in 1916 in the US state of Indiana . There he attended DePauw University . Because of the poor public education for African Americans in his native Alabama , he had to take numerous catch-up courses. However, this did not prevent him from completing his chemistry training with honors.

The color of his skin led his teachers to discourage him from pursuing an academic career. Julian initially worked as a chemistry teacher for two years. Despite all odds, he then went to Harvard and studied the courses Biophysics and organic chemistry , which he in 1923 with the Master graduated. However, he was denied further employment until he received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation in 1929 for his doctorate , which he completed in 1931 under Ernst Späth at the University of Vienna . In the years up to 1932 he focused on natural product chemistry.

Despite the difficulties at DePauw University, Julian went back there to lead a research program for students of organic chemistry. In the period up to 1935 he worked on the synthesis of physostigmine , which he finally succeeded and brought international recognition. Nevertheless, he was refused a professorship by the university's board of trustees .

Julian's time at DePauw University was over. He went into industry, to the Glidden Company in Chicago , where he became head of research. After 1948 he dealt with joint rheumatism and its treatment. As part of his work, he succeeded in synthesizing an active ingredient that became more readily available and subsequently made rheumatism therapy more affordable: hydrocortisone.

Julian applied for numerous patents in the following years and was involved in the establishment of two research organizations. In 1973 he was accepted into both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences . Despite all adversities, he remained connected with DePauw University. A few years before his death in 1975 he became a member of the board of trustees of this university.

In 2019 an asteroid was named after him: (5622) Percyjulian .

Individual evidence

  1. Biographies, publications and academic family tree of Percy Lavon Julian at, accessed on February 15, 2018.