In Tuesday's Google Doodle, a man in a white lab coat stands in the middle of a block party. Kids play on a sidewalk, parents show their appreciation for the bespectacled man, and two children hold up a sign saying, "Thank you, Dr. Salk!"
This illustration celebrates the 100th birthday of Jonas Salk, an American physician and medical researcher who is best known for developing the polio vaccine. Dr. Salk's work is credited with dramatically reducing the number of people diagnosed with the disease.
Salk was born October 28, 1914, in New York City to poor Russian-Jewish immigrants. His father worked in New York's garment district, earning just enough money to support his family. Salk did well in school and was accepted to Townsend Harris High School, a school for exceptionally bright students. At the age of 15, Salk enrolled at the City College of New York, becoming the first person in his family to attend college.
After working on a vaccine for the flu, Salk moved to the University of Pittsburgh in 1947 to become head of the school's Virus Research Lab. That's where he began researching a cure for polio.
Salk began national testing of his polio vaccine in 1954. At the time, there were 57,000 diagnosed cases of polio in the United States. A few years later, the annual number of cases dropped to only a dozen. Salk quickly became a national hero. An opinion poll from the 1950s found him ranked between Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi as revered figures of modern history.
Salk didn't patent his work and never made any money off of the vaccine. But in 1977, President Jimmy Carter awarded both Salk and Martin Luther King Jr. with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for their work. The French government inducted Salk into the Legion of Honor, one of the country's most prestigious awards. Salk was also awarded honorary degrees from universities in the United States, Britain, Israel, Italy, and in the Philippines.
In 1970, Salk married Francoise Gilot, a French painter and muse to Pablo Picasso. It is said that she influenced Salk's interest in painting and writing poetry.
Salk died in 1995, but his work and ideals remain with us today. One of Salk's quotes, which is memorialized at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif, represents the heart of his vision: "Hope lies in dreams, in imagination and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality."