Famous Scientists

Jonas Salk

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Jonas Salk

“Life is an error-making and an error-correcting process, and nature in marking man’s papers will grade him for wisdom as measured both by survival and by the quality of life of those who survive.”

This famous saying is by Jonas Salk, born in New York City on October 28, 1914, who is among the most respected medical scientists of the century. Though his first words were reported to be dirt, his early thoughts were not on studying germs but on going into law. He became interested in biology and chemistry, however, and decided to go into research. He went to New York University medical school for training.

Contributions and Achievements:

While attending medical school at New York University, Salk was invited to spend a year researching influenza. The virus that causes flu had only recently been discovered and the young Salk was eager to learn if the virus could be deprived of its ability to infect, while still giving immunity to the illness. Salk succeeded in this attempt, which became the basis of his later work on polio.

His actual work to cure polio started when in America in the 1950s, summertime was a time of concern and worry for many parents as this was the season when children by the thousands became infected with the crippling disease, polio. This burden of fear was lifted forever when it was announced that Dr. Jonas Salk had developed a vaccine against the disease. The vaccine proved successful as everybody who received the test vaccine started producing anti-bodies against the virus so that nobody else became inflicted with polio and no side effect was observed.

Jonas Salk published the results in the Journal of the American Medical Association the following year and a nationwide testing was made.

It was during this time that worst polio eruption happened. It was Salk’s former mentor Thomas Francis Jr. that helped and directed the mass vaccination of schoolchildren. Salk became world-famous overnight, but his discovery was the result of many years of painstaking research. In 1947 Salk accepted an appointment to the University of Pittsburgh Medical School. While working there with the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, Salk saw an opportunity to develop a vaccine against polio, and devoted himself to this work for the next eight years.

The March of Dimes, hoping to boost publicity and donations to fund vaccination programs, praised Salk to the point of offending his colleagues. He had applied the findings of others in a successful made the public blind to that. bid to prevent disease. Other researchers and doctors grumbled that he hadn’t found anything new; he had just applied what was there. But the timing of his successful vaccine at the peak of polio’s devastation

In the years after his discovery, many supporters, in particular the National Foundation “helped him build his dream of a research complex for the investigation of biological phenomena. It was called the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and opened in 1963 at California. Salk believed that the institution would help new and upcoming scientists along their careers as he said himself, “I thought how nice it would be if a place like this existed and I was invited to work there.” This was something that Salk was deprived of early in his life, but due to his achievements, was able to provide for future scientists.

Under Salk’s direction, the Institute began research activities in and gradually expanded its faculty and the areas of their research interests. Salk’s personal research activities included multiple sclerosis and autoimmune diseases, cancer immunology, improved manufacture and standardization of killed poliovirus vaccine, and another development in which Salk also engaged in research to develop a vaccine for more recent plague, AIDS. To further this research, he co-founded The Immune Response Corporation, to search for a vaccine, and patented Remune, an immune-based therapy.

In 1966, Salk described his ambitious plan for the creation of a kind of Socratic academy where the supposedly alienated two cultures of science and humanism will have a favorable atmosphere for cross-fertilization. President Ronald Reagan proclaimed that day to be Jonas Salk Day making people realize that Salk always had a passion for science. It was because of this that he finally chose medicine over law as his career goal. Even after his great discovery, he continued to undertake vital studies and medical research to benefit his fellowman. Under his vision and leadership, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies has been in the forefront of basic biological research, reaping further benefits for mankind and medical science.

The New York Times referred to him as the “Father of Biophilosophy”. As a biologist, he believes that his science is on the frontier of tremendous new discoveries and as a philosopher, he is of the view that humanists and artists have joined the scientists to achieve an understanding of man in all his physical, mental and spiritual complexity. Such interchanges might lead, he would hope, to a new and important school of thinkers he would designate as biophilosopher.

His definition of a “bio-philosopher” is “Someone who draws upon the scriptures of nature, recognizing that we are the product of the process of evolution, and understands that we have become the process itself, through the emergence and evolution of our consciousness, our awareness, our capacity to imagine and anticipate the future, and to choose from among alternatives.


Salk died at age 80 on June 23, 1995. A monument at the Institute with a statement from Salk captures his vision, “Hope lies in dreams, in imagination and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality.”

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