Today’s Google Doodle Honors Black Chemist Percy Lavon Julian

April 11, 2014  |  

Today’s Google Doodle honors Percy Lavon Julian, a black chemist who used plants to create medicines to treat glaucoma, and other inflammatory diseases. He is perhaps best known for creating a synthetic version of cortisone to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Moreover, his creation was a less expensive version of what was available in his time, making it more accessible to the people who need it.

Julian was born in 1899 in Alabama and, despite segregation, went to DePauw University and graduated first in his class with Phi Beta Kappa honors in 1920. He went on to earn a Master’s degree, become a professor, and turn to research.

In 1948, a natural cortisone compound was discovered. “Julian got right to work, and by October 1949, his team had created a synthetic cortisone substitute, radically less expensive but just as effective. Natural cortisone had to be extracted from the adrenal glands of oxen and cost hundreds of dollars per drop; Julian’s synthetic cortisone was only pennies per ounce,” writes PBS.

His research also led to advancements in other areas of medicine that used his techniques and the knowledge gleaned from his work.

Despite adversity, he went on to hold 100 patents and nine honorary doctorate degrees. Julian died in 1975. In 1990, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. And in 1993, he got a commemorative stamp. He would’ve been 115 years old today.

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