He was the only member of his class to graduate magna cum laude. The only senior to receive special honors in zoology, he also distinguished himself in botany, history, and sociology. From that auspicious start, Ernest Everett Just, Class of 1907, went on to a remarkable career in science. An African American, Just broke through racial barriers and conducted groundbreaking research in cell biology that helped define his field and continues to influence it today.
Just was a visionary who formulated new concepts of cell life and metabolism and initiated investigation of egg fertilization. He chaired the biology department at Howard University from 1912 until his death in 1941. In The Biology of Cell Surface, he introduced the theory that the cell membrane is equally important to the life of its cell as its nucleus. His studies laid the foundation for later cancer research.
On the 125th anniversary of Just's birth, Dartmouth celebrated his legacy with a dinner on campus in October, hosted by the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
One of the special guests of the evening was George Langford, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University, who held the Ernest Everett Just 1907 Professorship in the Natural Sciences at Dartmouth from 1991 to 2005. Just was a "brilliant scientist and trailblazer," said Langford. "He broke through the barrier that said that blacks could not do serious science, so I felt that he did the hard work for me-that it was easier for me to move to the next level."
Jennifer Richeson of Northwestern University delivered the keynote address, in which she outlined her latest research on the social psychology of economic status. Richeson, who was an assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at Dartmouth from 2000 to 2005, was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2005 in recognition of her work at Dartmouth in the field of social psychology. The
MacArthur Foundation has described Richeson as a leader "in highlighting and analyzing major challenges facing all races in America and the continuing role played by prejudice and stereotyping in our lives."
President James Wright delivered closing remarks, noting that Dartmouth is "so proud to be able to claim Dr. Just as an alumnus. He was one of the most distinguished biologists of his time; his legacy lives on today not only through his research, but also through the inspiration his accomplishments bring to young scientists-like those of you here in the audience tonight-and many more across the United States."
By ELIZABETH KELSEY
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Last Updated: 11/26/08