Persistence

Percy Lavon Julian was the embodiment of persistence. Julian was an American research chemist and a pioneer in the chemical synthesis of medicinal drugs from plants. He was the first to synthesize the natural product physostigmine, plus a pioneer in the industrial large-scale chemical synthesis of the human hormones progesterone and testosterone from plant sterols such as stigmasterol and sitosterol. His work laid the foundation for the steroid drug industry’s production of cortisone, other corticosteroids, and birth control pills.

Julian attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, when the college and town were segregated, graduating in 1920 as a Phi Beta Kappa and valedictorian.  He attended Harvard University and obtained an M.S. in chemistry, but the school withdrew his teaching assistantship, preventing him from completing a Ph.D. there.  Later while teaching at Howard University, Julian received a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship to continue his graduate work at the University of Vienna, where he earned his Ph.D. in 1931. 

Returning to a teaching position at Howard University, Julian became embroiled in university politics and a personal scandal that forced him to resign.  He accepted a position at DePauw University where he completed the synthesis of physostigmine, a drug for treating glaucoma.  He left DePauw in 1936 when he was denied a professorship because he was African-American.  After being denied jobs with DuPont and the Institute of Paper Chemistry, Julian was offered a position of director of research at Glidden’s Soya Products Division in Chicago.

In 1950, Julian moved into Oak Park, a Chicago suburb, the first African-American family to do so, but not before his new home was fire-bombed!  Later his home was attacked with dynamite.  Soon after these incidents the community rallied behind them.

Julian’s work yielded over 100 patents and he work includes synthesis of cortisone, producing hormones including progesterone, steroids, vitamins, amino acids and other chemicals mostly from soybean extracts.

The PBS series Nova produced a docudrama about Percy Julian called the Forgotten Genius.  In the film, historian James Anderson says “His story is a story of great accomplishment, of heroic efforts and overcoming tremendous odds…a story about who we are and what we stand for and the challenges that have been there and the challenges that are still with us.”

Mars 2020 – Countdown to Landing

On Thursday, February 18, 2021 at about 1:55pm MST the Perseverance rover and the Ingenuity helicopter drone will land on Mars! The NASA TV broadcast from Mission Control starts at 12:15pm MST. 

Watch live online the events on Earth with “some” delay from Mars.

The Perseverance rover has four science objectives that support the Mars Exploration Program’s science goals:

Looking for Habitability: Identify past environments capable of supporting microbial life.
Seeking Biosignatures: Seek signs of possible past microbial life in those habitable environments, particularly in special rocks known to preserve signs of life over time.
Caching Samples: Collect core rock and “soil” samples and store them on the Martian surface.
Preparing for Humans:

Test oxygen production from the Martian atmosphere.

  • Mission Name: Mars 2020

  • Rover Name: Perseverance

  • Main Job: The Perseverance rover will seek signs of ancient life and collect rock and soil samples for possible return to Earth.

  • Launch: July 30, 2020, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida

  • Landing: Feb. 18, 2021

  • Landing Site: Jezero Crater, Mars

  • Mission Duration: At least one Mars year (about 687 Earth days)

  • Tech Demo: The Mars Helicopter is a technology demonstration, hitching a ride on the Perseverance rover.

More information and other stuff at NASA Mars Landing Toolkit.

Darwin Day 2021

Packing the Hub
Packing the Hub

The Secular Hub held it’s grand opening on February 12, 2013.  Eight years later we could not have our traditional Darwin Day/Hub Birthday event.  2020 was a strange year for the Hub, stopping all in-person events at the 3100 Downing St. location in March.  We let our lease expire and moved into a storage Pod in December – our last event at 3100 Downing St.

Of course February 12, 1809 was Charles Darwin’s birthday as well as Abraham Lincoln (same year) and Olivia Hooker.  Who???

Olivia Juliette Hooker was born February 12, 1915 in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Hooker was one of the last known survivors of the Tulsa race massacre of 1921, and the first African-American woman to enter the U.S. Coast Guard in February 1945.

In 1947, she received her master’s from the Teachers College of Columbia University, and in 1961 she received her PhD in clinical psychology from the University of Rochester, with her dissertation on the learning abilities of children with Down syndrome.

Olivia Hooker in 2011

On February 9, 2015, Kirsten Gillibrand spoke in Congress to “pay tribute” to Hooker. In the same year, the Olivia Hooker Dining Facility on the Staten Island Coast Guard facility was named in her honor. A training facility at the Coast Guard’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. was also named after her that same year. On May 20, 2015, President Barack Obama recognized Hooker’s Coast Guard service and legacy while in attendance at the 134th Commencement of the United States Coast Guard Academy. On November 11, 2018, Google honored her by telling her story as part of a Google Doodle for the Veterans Day holiday. Hooker died of natural causes in her home in White Plains, New York on November 21, 2018, at the age of 103.