Great Engineers & Scientists Blog

Great Engineers & Scientists

In 1676, Sir Isaac Newton wrote "If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants." In this blog, we take Newton's words to heart, and recognize the many great engineers and scientists upon whose shoulders we stand.

So who do you think of when you hear "Great Engineer"? Let us know! Submit a few paragraphs about that person and we'll add him or her to the pantheon. Please provide a citation for the material that you submit so that we can verify it. Please note - it has to be original material. We cannot publish copywritten material or bulk text taken from books or other sites (including Wikipedia).

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Thomas Francis and the Influenza Virus (Part 1)

Posted February 26, 2008 8:16 AM by Steve Melito

Thomas Francis, Jr. was the first American scientist to isolate the human flu virus. He played a prominent role in the development of the first influenza vaccine, and in the testing and analysis of Jonas Salk's poliomyelitis vaccine. Francis' contributions as a physician, virologist and epidemiologist earned him a U.S. Medal of Freedom, as well as accolades from Time magazine, which once described him as the "No. 1 U.S. influenza man".

Early Life and Education

Thomas Francis, Jr. was born in Gas City, Indiana on July 15, 1900. The son of a steelworker, his family later moved to western Pennsylvania, where Francis earned a scholarship to attend Allegheny College in Meadville. Upon graduation in 1921, he enrolled at the Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut. There, Thomas Francis studied under Dr. Francis Blake, an expert in infectious diseases such as measles.

The Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research and the NYU College of Medicine

After graduating from Yale in 1925, Thomas Francis, Jr. went to work for Rufus I. Cole, chief of hospital at New York City's Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research. As part of an elite research team, Francis helped prepare vaccines against bacterial pneumonia, an infection which causes congestion and swelling in the lungs. Later, Francis extended his study of infectious diseases to influenza, a highly-contagious virus which had killed more people in 1918 – 1919 than had died in all of World War I.

In 1935, Thomas Francis, Jr. became the first American virologist and epidemiologist to isolate the flu virus. He also characterized the virus' complex antigenic shifts, the process by which two different strains combine to form a new subtype with a mixture of surface antigens from the two original strains. Three years later, Francis was named professor of bacteriology and department chair at the New York University College of Medicine, where he remained during the rest of the 1930s.

The U.S. Army Epidemiological Board

In 1941, the year in which the United States entered World War II, Thomas Francis was appointed director of the Commission on Influenza of the U.S. Army Epidemiological Board. As the nation increased the size of its armed forces for a possible conflict with the Axis powers, military planners worried about how a flu pandemic like the one of 1918 – 1919 would undermine troop strength. Indeed, as the American Medical Association (AMA) had noted about World War I and the ensuing influenza pandemic, "Medical science for four and one-half years devoted itself to putting men on the firing line and keeping them there. Now it must turn with its whole might to combating the greatest enemy of all - infectious disease".

Editor's Note: Click here for Part 2 of this biography.



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