Just tribute: 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. In 2018, UChicago Biosciences supported an ambitious effort to honor Just's legacy as a scientist.

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 artisit, 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 received her PhD at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 2004 and then continued her research training as a postdoc at Caltech. She joined the faculty at Northwestern University in the Department of Molecular Biosciences in 2008. 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 Associate Professor of Biology at Duke University.

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