Most of us can name a NOVA science film that radically changed our way of thinking.

For two Texas middle school students, Forgotten Genius was the one. Featuring the accomplishments and perseverance of Percy Julian, an influential and largely unknown African American chemist, the film propelled the career dreams of Tatyana McClain and Han Van.

McClain, now a budding pediatric anesthesiologist, and Van, a pharmacy tech who is studying nutrition as an alternative to western medicine, discovered the film while in middle school.

Forgotten Genius, produced in 2007, not only influenced McClain and Van, but it also continues to have deep meaning for those who created it. The film tells the story of Julian, the grandson of Alabama slaves, who made discoveries that led to the development of medicines for arthritis and glaucoma, even as he was thwarted and sidelined at almost every turn.

For the now-Broadway-famous Ruben Santiago-Hudson, who played the starring role of Julian, the film still resonates.

Forgotten Genius is a necessary story, because it isn’t only ‘yes, we can,’ it’s ‘yes, we did’ accomplish at that level,” says Santiago-Hudson, who most recently wrote the screenplay for Netflix’s new and critically acclaimed Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.

Forgotten Genius, which is slated to air again on January 27 on GBH 2, won the American Association for the Advancement of Science Award for Science Journalism and the National Academies Communication Award.
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When McClain and Van, who were looking for ideas for their 2016 National History Day project at Shotwell Academy in Houston, discovered Percy Julian, they were thrilled.

“We had wanted to discover someone unknown, someone in the shadows,” says Van.

“Finding information about Percy Julian was difficult,” says McClain. “So, we decided to ask NOVA how they found out so much about him.”

Their email reached Melanie Wallace, senior series producer for NOVA.

“This email made my day! It made my year!” recalls Wallace.

“It is exciting to know that the film touched somebody’s life,” said director Llew Smith in a recent interview. “It is profound and really humbling.” He said he is especially pleased that the film motivated the girls to achieve.

“When I was younger, I remember struggling with the idea of wanting to be a filmmaker — I didn’t know of any Black filmmakers,” he said. “Of course, they were there, but I just didn’t know about them.”

The students, who were eighth-graders at the time, placed third in the Texas state finals in 2016, competing against almost 50 other exhibits — including many by high school seniors.

NOVA has inspired a generation of students to choose science as their profession,” says Wallace. “That's the power of public media.”

Watch Forgotten Genius on January 27 at 9pm on GBH 2.