The long-awaited PBS film about famed scientist and Oak Paker Percy Julian will hit the airwaves in early 2007.

The PBS science series NOVA will broadcast the two-hour documentary Forgotten Genius about Julian on Feb. 6. Julian and his family were among Oak Park’s first black residents in the 1950s.

Stephen Lyons, an independent producer and director of the project, told Wednesday Journal on Monday that the film is ready to air, and referred any inquiries about the film to NOVA.

Lyons and his production crew interviewed friends, family and colleagues of Julian. Producers also interviewed colleagues and students of Julian at Indiana’s DePauw University, Julian’s alma mater. Julian graduated from the DePauw in 1920.

The film began somewhat accidentally in 1999 when NOVA producers attended a chemist conference in California. Percy Julian was the subject of a symposium at the conference in celebration his 100th birthday that year. Among Julian’s accomplishments was his worked in synthetic chemistry.

NOVA producers thought Julian’s life was worth a biography on the program.

“The reason we chose Julian is that his story had everything that you could want in a television program,” said Lyons in an October interview with Chemical and Engineering News.

Producers, however, discovered that there wasn’t much written extensively about Julian’s work and life aside from basic bios. Filmmakers spent years researching Julian’s life. The film about his life and work took more than 5 years to complete.

“There was just a lot of information that needed to be checked and that took a while to do,” said Anna Feiner, a representative of Dera, Roslan and Campion, a New York-based public relations firm promoting the film. “He’s so under the radar, but yet so prominent in our history and in science history.”

Percy Julian was born in 1899 in Birmingham, Ala., and was one of six children born to James Sumner Julian, a railway clerk and son of slaves, and Elizabeth Lena Adams Julian, a schoolteacher. He graduated from the State Normal School for Negroes in 1916, later applying to DePauw.

After graduating from DePauw, Julian went on to earn a master’s degree in chemistry from Harvard University in 1923. Julian received a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Vienna. He later taught at Fisk University and at his alma mater.

While at DePauw, he and a colleague worked on the synthesis of physostigmine, a drug used to treat glaucoma.

Despite his achievements, Julian faced racism in his professional and personal life.

Julian and his family moved to Oak Park in 1951. The family’s home was fire-bombed twice. Julian was also passed over for faculty positions at the universities where he worked, including at DePauw.

In his latter years, he would establish the Julian Laboratories and Julian Research Institute. Julian died of cancer in 1975 at age 76. Percy Julian Middle School in Oak Park, 420 N. Ridgland, bears his name.


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