BioDiversity & Inclusion: myPerspective – Black History Month

By Patrick, Sr. Sales Director

BioReference is proud to introduce BioDiversity & Inclusion: myPerspective, featuring inspiring stories contributed by our employees. This month we celebrate Black History Month with a story about Dr. Ernest Everett Just, by Patrick.

Impactful contributions by African-Americans are extremely vast, especially in the field of diagnostic medicine and science. There are several historical and recognizable African-American names in the field of science like Henrietta Lacks (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks) and Katherine Johnson (mathematician in Hidden Figures). Their names became part of our pop-culture in recent years after dynamic books and movies about their lives became available in our mainstream media. In this article and in honor of Black History Month, I will focus on another science pioneer that I am hopeful will have similar attention brought to the tremendous work done throughout his life: Ernest Everett Just.

Dr. Just was a pioneer in medical research and laboratory medicine. He inspired many young African-American scientists, physicians, researchers and laboratory medicine professionals. His seminal work centered around cell biology, embryology, and cellular genetics have stood the test of time leading to mRNA based technologies that now form the foundation in developing the vaccinations being produced to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic. May countless young African-American students and all students that are aspiring scientists find inspiration from the dynamic work of Dr. Ernest Everett Just.

Early Life

Born in 1883 in Charleston, SC, Ernest Everett Just was known as an intelligent student who went on to study at Kimball Academy and Dartmouth College. He graduated in 1907 with magna cum laude in biology and a minor in history.

Just began his career as a professor and research scientist at Howard University, one of our nation’s most prestigious Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). Howard University received significant notoriety recently as the alma mater for Kamala Harris, history-making Vice President of the United States.

While at Howard University, Just helped establish Omega Psi Phi Fraternity in 1911. Omega Psi Phi was the first black Greek-lettered fraternal organization founded at a HBCU. Just later became a member of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity.

Just continued his education by participating in the historic research of Woods Hole Marine Biological Research in Massachusetts. He obtained a doctorate degree from the University of Chicago where he studied experimental embryology and graduated magna cum laude.

Dr. Just pioneered several laboratory advancements. Many are foundational to embryology, cytology and oncology research including laboratory testing happening today. Even with his prestigious education and laboratory research prowess, Dr. Just was limited to teaching and research at Howard University due to the segregation policies of his time. He grew frustrated with the United States and eventually moved to Europe to continue his dynamic work centered around the biology of the cell surface and the cytoplasm. In 1940, the Nazi invasion of France forced Dr. Just to return to the United States and Howard University. Unfortunately, a little over a year after returning, Dr. Just passed away in 1941 of pancreatic cancer.

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