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BIPOC in STEM : Percy Lavon Julian

Updated: Feb 5, 2021

Percy Lavon Julian was an American chemist and civil rights advocate who was a pioneer in the chemical synthesis of medicinal drugs such as cortisone, steroids and birth control pills.

Percy Lavon Julian was born on April 11th 1899 in Montgomery, Alabama. He was a research chemist and a pioneer in the chemical synthesis of medicinal drugs from plants. He was the first to synthesize the product physostigmine (used to treat glaucoma), plus he was a pioneer in the industrial chemical synthesis of the human hormones progesterone and testosterone from plant sterols. Percy’s work laid the foundation for the steroid drug industry’s production of cortisone, corticosteroids, and birth control pills. Julian was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1973, becoming the second African-American to be inducted. In addition to Julian's contributions to science, he was a devoted advocate for human rights.

I remember, as a boy of 17 years of age, this was a fascinating thing for me: how we human beings breathe out carbon dioxide into the air, the leaves of plants pick this carbon dioxide up, and the plant gives off oxygen, which we can breathe in and keep our life going.

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