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Jonas Edward Salk (born Jonas Salk, October 28, 1914 – June 23, 1995) was an American medical researcher and virologist who developed one of the first successful polio vaccines. He was born in New York City and attended the City College of New York and New York University School of Medicine, later choosing to do medical research instead of becoming a practicing physician. He began an internship as a physician scientist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City in 1939.[1] Two years later, he was granted a fellowship at the University of Michigan where he studied flu viruses with his mentor Thomas Francis Jr.[2]

Polio was considered one of the most frightening public health problems in the world until 1955 when the Salk vaccine was introduced, and epidemics were increasingly devastating in the post-war United States. The 1952 U.S. epidemic was the worst outbreak in the nation's history, as 3,145 people died and 21,269 were left with mild to disabling paralysis,[3] most of its victims being children. The "public reaction was to a plague", said historian William L. O'Neill.[4] According to a 2009 PBS documentary, "Apart from the atomic bomb, America's greatest fear was polio."[5] As a result, scientists were in a frantic race to find a way to prevent or cure the disease.

In 1947, Salk accepted an appointment to the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. In 1948, he undertook a project funded by the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis to determine the number of different types of poliovirus. Salk saw an opportunity to extend this project towards developing a vaccine against polio, and he gathered a research team and devoted himself to this work for the next seven years. The field trial set up to test the Salk vaccine was, according to O'Neill, "the most elaborate program of its kind in history, involving 20,000 physicians and public health officers, 64,000 school personnel, and 220,000 volunteers." Over 1.8 million schoolchildren took part in the trial.[6] News was made public of the vaccine's success on April 12, 1955, and Salk was hailed as a "miracle worker" and the day almost became a national holiday. An immediate rush to vaccinate began around the world, with countries beginning polio immunization campaigns using Salk's vaccine, including Canada, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, West Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Belgium.

Salk campaigned for mandatory vaccination, claiming that public health should be considered a "moral commitment".[7] In 1960, he founded the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, which is today a center for medical and scientific research. He continued to conduct research and publish books, and his last years were spent searching for a vaccine against HIV. His personal papers are stored at the University of California, San Diego Library.[8][9]

Jonas Salk was born in New York City, New York, on October 28, 1914. His parents, Daniel and Dora (née Press) Salk, were Ashkenazi Jewish. Daniel was born in New Jersey, to eastern European immigrant parents; and Dora, in the Russian Empire, emigrating when she was twelve.[10] They had not received extensive formal education.[11] Jonas had two younger brothers, Herman and Lee, a renowned child psychologist.[12] The family moved from East Harlem to 853 Elsmere Place, the Bronx,[13] with some time spent in Queens at 439 Beach 69th Street, Arverne.[14]

When he was 13, Salk entered Townsend Harris High School, a public school for intellectually gifted students. Named after the founder of City College of New York (CCNY), it was, said Oshinsky, "a launching pad for the talented sons of immigrant parents who lacked the money—and pedigree—to attend a top private school." In high school "he was known as a perfectionist ... who read everything he could lay his hands on," according to one of his fellow students.[15] Students had to cram a four-year curriculum into just three years. As a result, most dropped out or flunked out, despite the school's motto "study, study, study." Of the students who graduated, however, most would have the grades to enroll in CCNY, noted for being a highly competitive college.[16]:96

Salk enrolled in CCNY from which he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry in 1934.[17] Oshinsky writes that "for working-class immigrant families, City College represented the apex of public higher education. Getting in was tough, but tuition was free. Competition was intense, but the rules were fairly applied. No one got an advantage based on an accident of birth."[16]

At his mother's urging, he put aside aspirations of becoming a lawyer, and instead concentrated on classes necessary for admission to medical school. However, according to Oshinsky, the facilities at City College were "barely second rate." There were no research laboratories; the library was inadequate. The faculty contained few noted scholars. "What made the place special," he writes, "was the student body that had fought so hard to get there ... driven by their parents. ... From these ranks, of the 1930s and 1940s, emerged a wealth of intellectual talent, including more Nobel Prize winners—eight—and PhD recipients than any other public college except the University of California at Berkeley." Salk entered CCNY at the age of 15, a "common age for a freshman who had skipped multiple grades along the way."[16]:98

As a child, Salk did not show any interest in medicine or science in general. He said in an interview with the Academy of Achievement,[18] "As a child I was not interested in science. I was merely interested in things human, the human side of nature, if you like, and I continue to be interested in that."
First Name
Middle Name
Last Name
Full Name at Birth
Jonas Edward Salk
Other Names
Dr Jonas Salk
Dr. Jonas Salk
Age
80 (age at death)
Date of Birth
Birthplace
Date of Death
Location of Death
Cause of Death
Buried
El Camino Memorial Park San Diego, California
Build
Hair Color
Distinctive Features
His parents, Daniel and Dora (née Press) Salk, had a Ashkenazi Jewish background...
His brother was Dr. Lee Salk, a distinguished specialist in neuromuscular diseases...
Aged 13, Salk entered Townsend Harris High School, a public school for intellectually gifted students...
In high school "he was known as a perfectionist...who read everything he could lay his hands on," according to one of his fellow students...
Despite producing Dr Jonas Salk and his child psychologist brother Lee, both parents had not received extensive formal education...
At his mother's urging, he put aside aspirations of becoming a lawyer, and instead concentrated on classes necessary for admission to medical school...
Salk entered CCNY at the age of 15, a "common age for a freshman who had skipped multiple grades along the way"...
In childhood, Salk did not show any interest in medicine or science in general: "As a child I was not interested in science. I was merely interested in things human, the human side of nature, if you like, and I continue to be interested in that"...
Residence
East Harlem, New York, New York, USA
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
La Jolla, California, USA
The Bronx, New York, New York, USA
Queens, New York, New York, USA
Star Sign
Sexuality
Religion
Ethnicity
Nationality
High School
University
[1934] City College of New York (CCNY) (BSc, Chemistry)
Occupation
Physician, Medical Researcher, Virologist
Occupation Category
Claim to Fame
He discovered and developed one of the first successful polio vaccine.
Genre
Medical research
Virology
Epidemiology
Pets
Donna Lindsay (9 June 1939 - 1968) (divorced) (3 children)
Françoise Gilot (29 June 1970 - 23 June 1995) (his death)
Thomas Francis Jr. (doctoral advisor)
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