AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: chemistry

Alice Ball’s revolutionary leprosy treatment development

Throughout history, people have been taught about a select few scientists that are often white men. However, the science field has a variety of others revolutionary scientists that have made great strides in their field, yet are not well known. It is important to study women’s and people of other races or religion’s accomplishment equally in depth.

Ball’s New Treatment for Hansen’s Disease

Alice Augusta Ball was a chemist who developed a successful treatment for Hansen’s Disease (also known as leprosy). Leprosy is a bacterial infection that effects skin, nose linings, and upper respiratory that causes skin ulcers, nerve damage, numbness, weakness in the muscles, and skin lesions.

At the time, leprosy was being treated with Chaulmoogra oil, but was unable to be injected, and could only apply it on the skin.  At age 23, Ball tried to purify the oil into chemical compounds (called ethyl esters), so it can be injected and be effective by making it water soluble and able to dissolve in the bloodstream. But, to achieve this goal, the oil needed to be converted to fatty acids first. Ball then realized the acid needs to be frozen for a night so it has enough time for esters to separate, and stop it from degrading due to the temperature. Ball’s work impacted many people with leprosy, saved their lives and lifestyles.

Why Didn’t Ball Get Credit? 

Although the Ball Method was the most effective treatments for leprosy at the time, Ball was not given credit. This is because her colleague, Arthur Dean took her findings and put his name on it. Because of this, Ball did not get credit until 1922. The University did not recognize Ball’s work for 90 years, and finally honored her in 2000. Ball was also named one of the most influential women in Hawaiian history in 2016.

Alice Ball’s Background

Ball was born in 1892 in Seattle, Washington, and her family later moved to Hawaii. Ball attended University of Washington where she received a bachelors degree in pharmaceutical chemistry and later went to work and study at University of Hawaii and the college of Hawaii. She was the first woman to graduate from the college, and the first African American researcher in the chemistry department. Unfortunately, Alice Ball passed away in 1916 at the young age of 24 when she fell ill during her research.

What Do I Think?

I believe, like many others do as well, Alice Augusta Ball is an inspiration to many with her various accomplishments in her short life. Along with dying at just 24 years old, Ball had to face many adversities due to societal constructs and discrimination towards African Americans and woman. Still, though, Ball persevered against all odds and helped advance the world of science. Women like Ball should be celebrated, talked about, and taught to people for all of their contributions to society, not only a select few white men.

The Incredible Work of Percy Lavon Julian

This post will focus on the incredible life of Dr. Percy Lavon Julian (1899-1975), an African-American chemist whose groundbreaking work with steroids allowed them to be mass-produced cheaper and developed hundreds of treatments and new technologies. Julian was born the son of a railway clerk and the grandson of enslaved people in Montgomery, Alabama, As such, he faced extreme discrimination and challenges in all aspects of his life, especially in his education. Against all odds, he was accepted and graduated as the valedictorian of DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. From there, he was awarded an Austin Fellowship to Harvard University where he furthered his education in chemistry. However, due to his race, he was not allowed to pursue a doctorate at Harvard, so he traveled to the University of Vienna in Austria in order to complete his doctorate and continue his research.

It was at the University of Vienna where Julian really dove into the chemistry of plants as well as synthesis, a passion that would lead to many groundbreaking discoveries. After being granted his Ph.D. from the University of Vienna, Julian returned to DePauw University as a research fellow where he made his first of many significant breakthroughs using synthesis. He and a fellow Viennese colleague synthesized physostigmine, a compound from Calabar beans that is vital in treating glaucoma. Since chemical synthesis (the process of turning one substance into another through a series of planned chemical reactions) was the most popular topic in chemistry, Julian was hurtled to the top of the science world. In fact, in 1999, the American Chemical Society denoted their work as a “National Historic Chemical Landmark.” Despite this revolutionary breakthrough that helped many people, DePauw University refused to make Julian a permanent faculty member due to his race. Julian quickly became frustrated with the world of academics and instead became the director of research at the Glidden Company.

It was at the Glidden Company where Julian made his most significant discoveries through soybeans. While researching how to synthesize Progesterone, a female sex hormone that is important in preventing miscarriages in pregnancies, Julian discovered that water had leaked into a vat of purified soybean oil and had produced a white mass. Julian quickly identified this white mass as stigmasterol, a compound that is extremely important for synthesizing progesterone, and realized he had discovered a way to cheaply mass-produce progesterone. This dramatically reduced the price of this important hormone and made it much more accessible to people all over the world. This was not the only amazing work that Julian did with soybeans, among his other achievements, he discovered a way to cheaply produce synthetic cortisone, a “miracle” drug that had significant effects on rheumatoid arthritis. Before Julian’s research, this drug was extremely expensive and therefore inaccessible to some people. Julian’s synthetic cortisone alleviated the pain and suffering of people all over the world. Julian did not only discover ways to synthesize steroids while at Glidden. For example, a protein he extracted from soybeans was used to produce a fire-retardant foam that saved thousands of lives in World War II.

In 1954, Julian left Glidden in order to start his own company called Julian Laboratories which cheaply produced steroids to sell to pharmaceutical companies. Julian was found to be as capable an entrepreneur as a scientist, making millions from selling his company. Despite Julian being named “Chicagoan of the year” and his incredible achievements, he faced significant discrimination both in his professional and personal life, having his home firebombed and being repeatedly held back from the best resources. Despite all of this, Julian left a tremendous legacy of groundbreaking work that allowed for the cheap production of medicine and a legacy as the man who broke the color barrier into American industrial science. At the time of his death, Julian had more than 100 patents to his name, 18 honorary degrees, and more than a dozen science and civic awards.

Crystal Meth is bad for you

Breaking Bad is a show based around high school teacher Walter White. Walter was a regular chemistry teacher until one day he found out that he had inoperable lung cancer. He then turned to creating crystal meth to make money in order to support his family before he died with his former student Jesse Pinkman. It’s thrilling to watch Walter as he tries to leads the double life of a chemistry teacher with a family and a diseased drug dealer, but is definitely not something you want to try. Crystal Meth is a methamphetamine. The reason people use it is because it releases a large amount of dopamine which creates a prolonged sense of euphoria. This rush damages the dopamine receptors which eventually leads to not being able to feel pleasure at all. Chronic abuse can lead to psychotic behavior, including paranoia, insomnia, anxiety, extreme aggression, delusions and hallucinations, and even death. Other side effects include diarrhea, nausea, excessive sweating, increased blood pressure, body temperature, heart rate, blood sugar levels, bronchodilation, and “meth mouth”. Meth mouth causes teeth to rapidly decay and fall out. The moral of the story is don’t do drugs.

Photo taken by Michael Allen Smith at

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

Skip to toolbar