Submitted to: Inform
Publication Type: Popular Publication
Publication Acceptance Date: 9/21/2007
Publication Date: 6/13/2008
Citation: Kenar, J.A. 2008. Giants of the past: Percy Lavon Julian (1899-1975) a forgotten pioneer in soy. Inform. 19(6):411-414.
Technical Abstract: The common thread running through African American chemist Percy Lavon Julian's life is one about outstanding achievements in the face of great obstacles. Racial oppression forced Julian to repeatedly pick up broken fragments of chance and turn them into opportunity. Percy Julian was a luminary in the field of organic synthesis and what Washington Carver Jr. did for the peanut, the pioneering research efforts of Percy Julian did for soybeans. During his lifetime he published over 50 scientific papers on the chemistry of plant alkaloids and sterols. In addition, he received well over 100 chemical patents related to his work on proteins, phosphatides, and sterol derivatives resulting from soybeans. He is most noted for his synthesis of cortisone from soybean sterols used to treat inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis which laid the foundation for the steroid drug industry's production of corticosteroids and birth control pills. Julian was the third African American to receive a doctorate in chemistry behind St. Elmo Brady and Edward M. A. Chandler and the first African American chemist inducted into the National Academy of Sciences. A commemorative stamp was issued by the United States Postal Service in 1993. This is a historical review of his life and work.