E. E. Just Lecture

Honoring the legacy of pioneering biologist Ernest Everett Just, PhD 1916

Ernest Everett Just (1883-1941) was a pioneer during his day, one of a handful of African American biological scientists, and one of the first African Americans to earn a PhD from the University of Chicago. Just pursued a PhD in zoology at the University of Chicago in absentia from 1911-1916. He worked most summers with UChicago professor and later Dean of the Biological Sciences Frank Lillie and others at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA, and maintained his position at Howard University for the rest of the year. Just discovered an important aspect of cell cleavage while researching his dissertation and published his most important work, The Biology of the Cell Surface, in 1939. As the Head of Physiology at Howard University Medical School, he was the first awardee of the NAACP’s highest honor, the Spingarn Medal in 1915, in recognition of his research in biology. 

Each year, UChicago Biosciences invites a distinguished member of a group underrepresented in science to deliver a lecture to honor the legacy of Dr. Just. 

Sade Spencer, PhD

Please join us for the 11th Annual E.E. Just Lecture featuring Dr. Sade Spencer, PhD, Assistant Professor, Pharmacology, the University of Minnesota, on Monday, May 20, 2024 in BSLC Room 109 at 4pm. Reception to follow. Spencer researches the neural basis of addiction and possible treatments. For some substance use disorders, including cocaine use disorder, there remain no approved pharmacological treatments. Basic neuroscience research can help identify novel mechanisms of SUDs and biological targets for potential treatments. The overarching goal of the Spencer lab is to understand the neural mechanisms governing reward and aversion to drugs of abuse and the overlapping and discrete mechanisms governing addition and related neuropsychiatric diseases. Dr. Spencer will present some of her lab’s work to examine the role of adenosine monophosphate (AMPK) in regulating cocaine related behaviors and cocaine reward as well as the potential of repurposing, metformin, an indirect AMPK activator and FDA-approved medication used to treat type 2 diabetes, to treat cocaine use disorder. To register to attend scan the QR code or visit https://redcap.link/E.E.Just2024 

Derek Applewhite, PhD was selected as the 10th annual E. E. Just Lecturer and spoke on Friday, May 19th. Dr. Applewhite is an Associate Professor in the Biology Department at Reed College. He studies cytoskeleton regulation with the aim to understand cell motility in the context of a developing organism, asking questions such as "How does actin-microtubule cross-linkers function in regulating the cytoskeleton?" and "How is actomyosin contractility regulated during interphase?"  To answer these questions, Derek and his team of undergraduate researchers take advantage of sophisticated cell biological and powerful genetic approaches available in the developing Drosophila embryo and Drosophila derived culture cells. Dr. Applewhite is a prolific teacher and mentor, training dozens of successful scientists using a philosophy centered in inclusion and equity. He is an outspoken champion of LGBTQ+ inclusion, and created and lead the American Society for Cell Biology's (ASCB) LGBTQ+ committee. Leadership goes hand in hand with research for Dr. Applewhite and his efforts to balance the playing field in STEM serves as an example to scientists across the nation. 

Dr. Janina Jeff joined us on campus for the annual E. E. Just on May 13, 2022, at 2 pm for a lively discussion of current genetic research questions and the ethical and practical implications for minority communities. Dr. Jeff received her BS from Spelman College and her PhD in Human/Medical Genetics at Vanderbilt University. She is now a scientist at Illumina discovering population-specific genetics risk factors of common disease. She also hosts the award-winning podcast In Those Genes, a Hip-Hop inspired podcast that uses genetics to uncover the lost identities of African descended Americans through the lens of black culture.

Dr. Carlos D. Bustamante, PhD, Professor of Biomedical Data Science and Genetics, Stanford University, joined us on October 14, 2020 at noon to discuss "The Innovation Economy and the Future of Biotech and Healthcare." In a wide-ranging and lively discussion, Dr. Bustamante discussed the need for public and private partnerships to support basic research, how all the data collected will be managed, and the challenge and promise of developing precision medicine to scale. He highlighted the underrepresentation of minority groups in data sets and clinical trials, and the potential long-term impact of Covid on the health care economy. The Graduate Recruitment Initiative Team (GRIT) and UChicago SACNAS hosted an informal student Diversity in Science Roundtable with Dr. Bustamante later in the afternoon for a frank discussion of diversity and inclusion within the scientific community.

On Thursday, April 18, 2018, Dr. Kenneth Manning, the Thomas Meloy Professor of Rhetoric and the History of Science at MIT and author of the definitive biography of Just, Black Apollo of Science: The Life of Ernest Everett Just, discussed the experience of Just and that of other African American scientists in a standing-room only lecture. Afterward, Manning met with faculty, students and members of Just's two fraternities, Omega Psi Phi and Sigma Pi Phi, at a reception at the Smart Museum to celebrate the dedication of a Just room on campus and the commencement of portrait of Just by local artist, Stephen Flemister. Flemister, who was an Artist in Residence in 2016-2017 at the University’s Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture, was commissioned by the Just Working Group in collaboration with the Multicultural Graduate Community. He works in sculpture, print media, and new media. The completed portrait, which is installed in the E. E. Just Room in the Erman Biology Center, can be seen here.

Previous E. E. Just Lecturers


Heather Pinkett, PhD

Heather Pinkett is an Associate Professor in the Department of Molecular Biosciences at Northwestern University. Dr. Pinkett received her PhD at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and then continued her research training as a postdoc at Caltech. The Pinkett Lab is interested in how nutrients, antibiotics and chemotherapeutics are transported into or out of the cell.  Their focus is on ABC transporters, proteins that use ATP hydrolysis to shuttle substrates across cellular membranes.


Malcolm Byrnes, PhD 

Howard University Professor Malcolm Byrnes spoke about the life and research of E. E. Just, whom he has studied extensively. The talk, entitled "E.E. Just's Broad (and Hidden) Influence on the Development of Modern Biology,” celebrated the 100th anniversary of Just receiving his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. 

Yasmin Hurd, PhD

Mount Sinai Professor Yasmin Hurd has done extensive research on the neurobiology of addiction within developing brains. Her most recent research has focused specifically on the effect marijuana has on teenagers, and the likelihood that a teen who uses cannabis regularly will be more prone to developing other addictive tendencies.

2015: Tyrone Hayes, PhD

Professor Tyrone Hayes of the University of California, Berkeley has dedicated his life to researching the effect of steroids on amphibian development. These investigations have covered everything from metamorphosis to sex differentiation and behavior regulation. His talk, entitled, “From Silent Spring to Silent Night: A Tale of Toads and Men,” gave students a brief overview of his work so far, and discussed the political implications of his findings on the chemical atrazine.

2014: Rhonda Dzakpasu, PhD

Georgetown Professor Rhonda Dzakpasu is an expert in experimental optical physics and neuroscience. Her most recent research involved the study of how neural networks will work in tandem, executing synchronized activity.

2013: Cassandra Extavour, PhD

Cassandra Extavour is Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard University. Her lecture was entitled "Evolutionary novelty in genes and developmental pathways: lessons from germ cells."

2012: Paul Magwene, PhD

Paul Magwene, PhD'99 (Committee on Evolutionary Biology), is Professor of Biology and in Molecular Genetics and Microbiology at Duke University.