Happy 115th Birthday, Percy Julian!

SCIENCE SOURCE—Getty Images/Photo Researchers RM

SCIENCE SOURCE—Getty Images/Photo Researchers RM

Percy Julian was an American research chemist and pioneer in the chemical synthesis of medicinal drugs from plants. He synthesized physostigmine for the treatment of glaucoma as well as cortisone for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and is even noted for inventing a fire-extinguishing foam for gasoline and oil fires! He was also part of the vanguard for the industrial large-scale synthesis of the human hormones progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone. He helped thousands of people gain access to cheaper, more effective medicine. 

As an African-American, Julian faced many obstacles throughout his career, though he went on to hold more than 100 patents and received 19 honorary doctorates. In 1964, he founded the Julian Research Institute, which he managed until his death in 1975. He was the second African-American elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1973. In 1990, he was entered into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and in 1993 he was honored with a Black Heritage Commemorative Stamp by the U.S. Postal service.

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