The Life and Times of Percy Julian
Julian's Struggle to Find a Place as a Chemist: 1926-19-29

Teaching at West Virginia and Howard University

In 1926 Percy Julian became a professor of chemistry Click to go to Activity. at West Virginia Collegiate Institute, now West Virginia State University. For two years Julian was the only member of the chemistry department at this all-black institution.

The labs didn’t have very much equipment to work with, which was typical of black colleges at that time, and also of many colleges for whites in West Virginia, a relatively poor state. Julian played a role in getting West Virginia State accredited Accreditation is a sign that a college has high-quality education. It is given by a group of teachers or professors who are experts in how to manage colleges. If a college gets accredited, this shows that it has become a better place to learn. If it loses accreditation, this means that its education has gotten worse. in 1927, which meant that it offered an education equal to that of neighboring white colleges.

Despite the equipment limitations, Julian started doing research in organic chemistry again. When he was not teaching, he began to re-create the experiments Click to go to Activity. of a famous Austrian chemist named Ernst Späth. Späth had made, or synthesized Click to go to Activity., naturally occurring chemical compounds in the laboratory, and Julian, who was interested in the compounds found in plants, began synthesizing plant compounds like nicotine and ephedrine.

After two years at West Virginia, Julian was ready to move on again. In 1928 he moved to Washington, D.C., to become chair of the chemistry department at Howard University, replacing St. Elmo Brady, the man who first inspired him to become a chemist. Howard University was and still is one of the most important and respected historically black colleges or universities in the United States. At Howard, Julian designed a new chemistry lab that cost more than $1 million, something he could never have done at a less prestigious school like West Virginia. He didn’t stay at Howard very long, because in 1929 Julian finally got his chance to go back to graduate school and earn his Ph.D. He packed his bags and headed to the University of Vienna, Austria, to study under Ernst Späth, the man whose experiments he had tried to duplicate three years earlier.


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