“No, you can’t!”

What if this is what you were told when you tried to pursue your dreams, your interests, your goals? Would you become more determined? What if you ultimately succeeded, became rich, received all kinds of awards, and even had a postage stamp issued in your honor? If you did, then you would be like the African American chemist Percy Lavon Julian.

Percy Julian heard the word no about his career goals as a chemist many times. Born in 1899, he faced tremendous obstacles due to prejudice, but he persevered to become a highly successful chemist and businessman. He worked at colleges and in industrial laboratories, and he formed his own chemical company and the Julian Research Institute. When he died in 1975, he was one of the richest and most admired African Americans.

Explore the Life and Career of Percy Lavon Julian

Learn about his brilliance, perseverance, and hard work. Find out about his accomplishments as scientist and businessman. Along the way, you’ll discover what it’s like to work as a scientist, what science and society were like in Julian’s time, and how Julian’s accomplishments affect our world today.


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Pictured from top to bottom: Percy Julian upon graduating from DePauw University, 1920 (courtesy of DePauw University Archives and Special Collections); Percy and Anna Julian, 1950 (also courtesy of DePauw); Julian in the lab (courtesy of Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio).

Julian, ca. 1950 (courtesy of Western Reserve Historical Society).

A PBS/NOVA Documentary on Percy Julian

Visit the NOVA web site to learn more and watch online.