In 1935, he earned international acclaim by synthesizing physostigmine from the calabar bean to create a drug treatment for glaucoma. However, facing discrimination because of his race, Dr. Julian decided to leave academia for a role with a chemical company where he had many achievements, including the invention of Aero-Foam, a soy-based fire-retardant product that used was widely used in World War II.
He also discovered how to extract sterols from soybean oil and synthesize the hormones progesterone and testosterone. He was celebrated for his synthesis of cortisone, which became used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.
In 1953, he established his own enterprise, Julian Laboratories, to perform research and manufacture synthesized steroids from Mexican yams. His pioneering company served as a training ground for dozens of promising young African American chemists, thereby breaking the color barrier in American industrial science.