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The Sound of Science - 'Percy Julian'


FLYNN: Welcome to the Sound of Science. I’m Joseph Flynn with the Center for Black Studies and today Ms. Gaylen Rivers joins me as we look at prominent black figures in STEM. 

RIVERS: In 1916, future-chemist Percy Julian enrolled at DePauw University in Indiana. In 1920, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry with honors. He was first in his class despite having to take remedial courses to fill in gaps left from being denied a high school education in his hometown of Montgomery, Alabama and experiencing racial discrimination while at DePauw.

FLYNN: He then went on to win a fellowship, becoming the first African American to earn a master’s degree in Chemistry from Harvard, and ultimately earning his doctorate at the University of Vienna.

GAYLEN: Dr. Julian specialized in synthesis, the process of turning one substance into another through intentional chemical reactions. In 1935, he and a colleague synthesized physostigmine, which lead to breakthroughs in glaucoma treatment. 

FLYNN: He also pioneered research that lead to crucial advancements like the fire-retardant in extinguishers, artificial hormones now used in hormone replacement therapy, and synthetic cortisone. By 1970, he had amassed more than 100 patents.

FLYNN: In 1950, Dr. Julian and his family moved to Oak Park, IL. They were one of the first black families to live in Oak Park and were met with violent resistance, including attacks with firebombs and dynamite.

FLYNN: That same year, he was named Chicagoan of the year by the Chicago Sun-Times. 

RIVERS: He was also a civic and civil rights leader who raised funds and spoke out publicly for racial justice and equality for all. 

FLYNN: Dr. Julian’s legacy is massive. He broke barriers and used his labs as training grounds for scores of young African American chemists when other labs would not. 

RIVERS: This was the Sound of Science on WNIJ. 

FLYNN: Where you learn something new every day.   

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