Google on Thursday celebrated the 138th birth anniversary of Polish inventor, doctor, and immunologist Rudolf Weigl with a doodle. Weigl had produced the first effective vaccine against epidemic typhus—one of humanity’s oldest and most infectious diseases.
Thursday’s doodle shows Weigl holding a test tube in his gloved hands. There are drawings of lice on the wall on the right side and a human body and some more lice on the left. The illustrator has spelled out Google with all that is used in a lab for testing purpose.
According to Weigl bio on the Google page, he was born on this day in 1883 in the Austro-Hungarian town of Przerów (modern-day Czech Republic). Weigl went on to study biological sciences at Poland’s Lwów University and was appointed as a parasitologist in the Polish Army in 1914. As millions across Eastern Europe were plagued by typhus, Weigl became determined to stop its spread.
Body lice were known to carry the typhus-infecting bacteria Rickettsia prowazekii, so Weigl adapted the tiny insect into a laboratory specimen. His innovative research revealed how to use lice to propagate the deadly bacteria which he studied for decades with the hope of developing a vaccine. In 1936, Weigl’s vaccine successfully inoculated its first beneficiary. When Germany occupied Poland during the outbreak of the Second World War, Weigl was forced to open a vaccine production plant. He used the facility to hire friends and colleagues at risk of persecution under the new regime.
An estimated 5,000 people were saved due to Weigl’s work during this period-both due to his direct efforts to protect his neighbors and to the thousands of vaccine doses distributed nationwide. Today, Weigl is widely lauded as a remarkable scientist and hero. His work has been honored by not one but two Nobel Prize nominations.