Career Milestones

back | 2 of 8 | next

Image 2

Chemical tour de force (1932-1935)
Not long after his return from Vienna, Julian suddenly faced personal and professional problems that threatened to end his career just as it was beginning. In characteristically bold fashion, he resolved to take on a challenge that could save or destroy him as a chemist: synthesizing physostigmine. This alkaloid proved effective in treating glaucoma, a disease responsible for 15 percent of all cases of blindness in the United States. Any scientist who could fully synthesize the alkaloid in a lab would receive considerable international attention, but pursuing physostigmine was risky. Leading organic chemist Sir Robert Robinson had already published nine papers on the alkaloid, and Julian chanced committing professional suicide by challenging the expert's findings. In the end, Julian and colleague Josef Pikl proved Robinson in error and completed the synthesis, a coup that many chemists still marvel at today.

Forgotten Genius homepage | NOVA homepage