Jonas Salk was an American microbiologist and scientific researcher who lived from 1914-1995. Although Salk is most famously remembered for his work on the polio vaccine in the 1950s, he also contributed a number of advances to infectious disease prevention and treatment. Around the world, Jonas Salk is viewed as a hero in many communities, since millions of people have avoided potentially fatal polio infections with the assistance of his famous vaccine.
Salk was born into a Jewish New York family in 1914. When he initially went to university, he studied law, but he ended up switching to medicine, graduating in 1939. In the 1940s, Jonas Salk worked at the University of Michigan, studying influenza. His studies became extremely important during the Second World War, when influenza infection posed a major risk to American soldiers overseas. Salk was among the first to recognize that a killed virus could be used in vaccine production to make a much safer and equally productive vaccine, and this discovery played a major role in the development of an influenza vaccine.
After his work on influenza, Salk moved to the University of Pittsburgh, where he began work on a vaccine for polio. At the time, polio was a devastating disease and many people lived in fear for their children during the summer months, when polio infections tended to increase astronomically. Using his work with killed viruses, Jonas Salk developed a safe and effective polio vaccine which was released to the public in 1954.
Although Jonas Salk is treated like a hero today, at the time he met with some opposition. Some scientists believed that his vaccine simply wouldn't work, and they were extremely skeptical about its introduction. In 1957, a bad batch of vaccine actually caused polio infections in a small group of people, leading to increased criticism about the vaccine. However, Jonas Salk persevered, fighting for the validity and usefulness of his vaccine because he believed in it.
In 1963, Jonas Salk moved to San Diego, where he became the director of a research institute which came to be known as the Salk Institute. He conducted a wide assortment of research projects there; in his later years, Salk worked on a vaccine for AIDS. Although Salk was not successful, some microbiologists think that he may have laid the groundwork, and he certainly provided hope to the scientific community.