Legacy of Dr. Wu Lien-teh


Courtesy of Google Doodle

On March 10, Google celebrated Dr. Wu Lien-teh’s 142nd birthday and acknowledged his influence in today’s coronavirus pandemic.

Tiana Salisbury, Photojournalist

Since the beginning of the pandemic, people have been relying on the use of face masks to keep them safe. Masks help lower the risk of spreading COVID-19 by blocking germ-filled particles in the air from reaching the mouth or nose. By wearing a mask, people are not only protecting themselves but also those around them. Currently, face masks are commonly worn and are saving countless lives. The protection masks provided to us today are thanks to Dr. Wu Lien-teh, who invented them in 1910.

Dr. Wu was a Chinese-Malaysian epidemiologist. USA Today states that in 1910, he was recruited to investigate the Manchurian Plague in northwestern China. After researching the disease, Dr. Wu discovered that it was being spread through respiratory transmissions. This is similar to the coronavirus, which is also transmitted from person to person through respiratory droplets. After making this discovery, Dr. Wu decided to design a face mask that would prevent the disease from spreading. He created a cotton mask with cloth filters that would limit the number of particles spread from person to person. The design of this mask is used in today’s masks. In fact, CNN states that Dr. Wu’s masks laid the foundation for N95 masks, which are used by health professionals today. Madison Liao (10) finds this “really interesting because it is amazing to see how something from over a century ago is still relevant in our lives today.”

Dr. Wu also implemented quarantine stations and travel restrictions, similar to what is being enacted today. The social distancing measures that Dr. Wu advised over a century ago are being used in today’s pandemic, which demonstrates his influential role in epidemiological matters. With the use of masks and social distancing, Dr. Wu was able to help the Manchurian Plague end in just four months of his assistance.

In addition to creating a face mask to protect people, Dr. Wu also made history with his career. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, Dr. Wu was the first person of Chinese descent to graduate from the University of Cambridge with a degree in medicine. This accomplishment was only the start of his career. In 1920, Dr. Wu helped to lead the combat against the cholera outbreak in northeastern China. Later in 1930, he became the first director of China’s National Quarantine Service. For his part in ending the Manchurian Pandemic in 1910, Dr. Wu was nominated for the Nobel Prize in 1935. This nomination made him the first person of Malaysian or Chinese descent to receive a nomination for the prize in the categories of Physiology or Medicine. 

Just recently, Google celebrated Dr. Wu’s 142nd birthday with a Google doodle that pictured him creating and distributing his face mask. The image’s caption describes his legacy that is continuing to influence us today. As the pandemic continues, Dr. Wu’s legacy will continue to have a significant impact on people’s lives and the world.