Pearson Appears in NOVA Program 'Forgotten Genius'

HTS Professor Willie Pearson Contributes to Show about African-American Chemist Percy Julian

No book length biographies have been written about Percy Julian, one of the most famous chemists of the twentieth century. At last Julian will get just recognition when NOVA airs 'Forgotten Genius' about his personal and professional life on February 6 at 8 p.m. on local PBS stations. Julian broke the color barrier in American science and won worldwide acclaim for his work in organic chemistry and as the first black director of an industrial chemistry research lab. A brilliant chemist, his career was marked by many scientific breakthroughs that improved lives. He converted soybeans into synthetic steroids on an industrial scale, and his innovative approach helped make drugs like cortisone affordable and available to millions. His inventiveness helped lay the groundwork for the entire field of steroid medicine, and later the birth control pill.

Dr. Willie Pearson Jr., sociology professor in the School of History Technology and Society, has been involved with this NOVA program from concept through production. Several years ago, Pearson, who specializes in science and technology policy-related research on the production of Ph.D. scientists and engineers, was contacted by NOVA to help with a proposal for a program about Julian. He reviewed the producers- materials, critiqued their proposals and served as a member of the program's advisory board.

"My contribution to this program was to help the producers find materials and validate facts and provide the broader context of what was happening in the science field during Julian's life," says Pearson. "This project has turned into a much bigger project than NOVA originally anticipated. To see this project come into final production is very rewarding."

Pearson, whose on-camera interview appears in the program, emphasizes what an extraordinary man Julian was. "In addition to his remarkable accomplishments as a chemist, entrepreneur and philanthropist, he was a gifted writer of both scientific and literary works which is an unusual combination," says Pearson. "His life story has some controversy as well, and it is interesting to see how those aspects of his life are handled in the final program as well."

More background about Julian, including education materials and a preview of 'Forgotten Genius' are available online at