Career Milestones

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Doctorate by alkaloid (1929-1931)
In 1929, Percy Julian won the opportunity to pursue a dream he had held for more than a decade: a doctorate in chemistry. Funded by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, he enrolled at the University of Vienna and began work on alkaloids. His task was to isolate and identify the active ingredient in the Austrian shrub Corydalis cava, an alkaloid that scientists had found could soothe pain and calm heart palpitations. This meant breaking the molecule apart, atom by atom, then deducing its structure—a daunting job at the time for even the most experienced chemists. Julian succeeded, and in 1931 he became only the fourth African-American in history to gain a Ph.D. in chemistry. He returned to the States, ready to launch a career in chemistry.

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