Google Doodle Celebrates the man behind the mask, Dr. Wu Lien-teh
Google Doodle honors the late Malaysian-Chinese epidemiologist Dr Wu Lien-teh, who invented the surgical face mask, on his 142nd birthday today.
Wu’s work more than 100 years ago helped knock down a highly contagious respiratory disease within months.
To celebrate this achievement, Google dedicated its Doodle to Wu on the doctor’s 142nd birthday.
Dr Wu, who was born to Chinese immigrant parents in Penang in 1879 on this day, went on to become the first student of ethnic Chinese descent to earn his medical degree from Cambridge University.
After becoming the first student of Chinese descent to study at Cambridge University, Wu went to work for the Chinese government, becoming vice director of the Army Medical College in 1908. When a highly lethal epidemic broke out in northwestern China in 1910, Wu was tasked by the government with investigating the disease, which he determined to be a highly contagious pneumonic plague which had human to human respiratory transmission. The disease had a 99.9% fatality rate and would ultimately claim 60,000 lives.
To combat the disease, Dr Wu designed and produced a special surgical mask with cotton and gauze, adding several layers of cloth to filter inhalations. It’s widely believed to be the ancestor to today’s N95 mask, used to help keep people from contracting the corona virus.
He had also advised people to wear the newly-invented mask and worked with government officials to establish quarantine stations and hospitals, disinfect buildings, restrict travel and apply progressive sterilization techniques.
This contributed greatly to the end of the pandemic, also known as the Manchurian plague, by April 1911, just within four months of him being tasked with controlling its spread.
In 1915, Dr Wu founded the Chinese Medical Association, the country’s largest and oldest non-governmental medical organisation.
Dr Wu, a staunch advocate of medical advancement, is also Malaysia’s first Nobel Prize nominee in 1935. He was at that time nominated for the prestigious award in Physiology or Medicine for his work to control the pneumonic plague.
Wu would continue to practice medicine for the rest of his life. He died of a stroke in 1960 at the age of 80.
A devoted advocate and practitioner of medical advancement, Dr Wu’s efforts not only changed public health in China but that of the entire world. Happy birthday to the man behind the mask, Dr Wu Lien-teh!