E.E. Just at a microscope in 1925

Ernest Everett Just was the first African American MBL student then course instructor, then he remained an MBL investigator for decades. Just studied the processes by which sea urchin eggs are fertilized, working with the MBL’s second director Frank Lillie to receive his PhD from the University of Chicago in 1916.

sea urchin HoverTouch to magnify
Sea urchin

Egg cells normally begin differentiating and dividing when fertilized by sperm. But how? Just joined MBL researchers Lillie and Jacques Loeb in exploring and arguing about their different ideas related to this question. Just closely studied the point at which fertilization begins, when the sperm cell joins the egg. He built on his findings for his well-received 1939 book, The Biology of the Cell Surface..

spermies HoverTouch to magnify
Stages of sperm penetration
just cover HoverTouch to magnify
MBL Rare Books Collection

Just enjoyed life at the MBL, but as the only African-American scientist, he faced considerable prejudice in the US academic world. Despite winning prestigious awards, he was not offered faculty or research positions commensurate with his abilities. With limited opportunities in the US, he traveled to Europe, where he felt more welcome at first, though WWII changed attitudes there and he returned to the US for a short time until his death in 1941.


1. Still Image: "Ernest Everett Just", 6/8/2012, https://hdl.handle.net/1912/16272.

2. Wikimedia Commons contributors, "File:Red Sea Urchin by Lawson Harbour.png," Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Red_Sea_Urchin_by_Lawson_Harbour.png&oldid=483820660 (accessed October 11, 2021).

3. Just, Ernest Everett. The Biology of the Cell Surface. Philadelphia: P. Blakiston’s Son & Co., Inc., 1939, p. 165. https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/bibliography/6379.

4. Still Image: “EE Just pitching horseshoes", 5/15/2012, https://hdl.handle.net/1912/21046. 

5. Still Image: "Ernest Everett Just", 2012-06-11, https://hdl.handle.net/1912/17920.