Four Unappreciated
Heroes of Science
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One of the biggest downfalls of the history of science as we know it today, is that some people receive all the acclaim while innumerable others are simply left behind unappreciated, even though their contribution is significant. Of more than 600 Noble prize winners in the fields of Physics, Chemistry, Economics, and Medicine, how many can a layperson name? Einstein, Marie Curie, and Pavlov are just three of the 600 other scientists. Most of them do not get the acclaim that they deserve. The truth is that these relatively ordinary scientists are the true unsung heroes in science. Amongst the great legends in the field, which include Darwin and Newton, these scientists seem to have ended up as mere footnotes in a passing tale.

1. Alfred Russell Wallace - First Father of the Theory of Evolution

Charles Darwin's ideas on the 'Theory of Evolution' have made his name almost synonymous with his field of study. Darwin and evolution are said in the same breath, more often than not. But did you know that Charles Darwin was 'not' the first one to theorize the 'Theory of Evolution' through the process of natural selection?

Alfred Russell Wallace was a British naturalist and explorer who happened to be one of Darwin's close friends and intellectual equal. During the mid-1800s, Wallace was conducting an expedition in Malaysia. He recorded the basics of his 'Theory of Evolution' and shared his work with his close friend, Charles Darwin. It was this pivotal piece of work that inspired Darwin to pen down his own thoughts on the theory. In fact, Darwin went on to print both their ideas in a joint paper, before eventually releasing his individual paper in 1858. Today, his papers on the 'Theory of Evolution' and 'On the Origin of Species' have become seminal works that are credited as being the alpha and omega of the theory of how evolution took place. Wallace remains forgotten in the annals of time. He fell on tough times after writing the paper, and with familial help or money, his scientific explorations were brought to an untimely end.
However, his scientific exploration journal 'The Malay Archipelago' still receives limited attention and his collection of butterflies and beetles is on display at the US Natural History Museum.

2. Charles Drew - Inventor of blood banks

The story of the surgeon Charles Drew would in all probability make for an interesting movie. It has creative genius, racial undertones, and a mysterious death to boot. Drew was an African-American surgeon who ought to be credited for bringing the wonders of blood transfusion to the masses. Innumerable lives have been saved by blood transfusions in the past 7 decades. One of the primary reasons that this has been possible is the discovery that blood could in fact be preserved and then reconstituted when the need arose.

Charles Drew is the brilliant revolutionary surgeon who came up with a system of storing blood, which is now popularly known as a blood bank. Without blood banks, the possibility of mobile units carting blood all over the world would not have existed. Drew's work was even more pivotal because of the timing of his invention. With World War II leaving more and more men wounded and in the jaws of death, Drew's blood banks led to a successful blood drive in the US and Britain. This blood was then transported to the soldiers who needed it.

Unfortunately, Drew had to contend with racism throughout his life. He suffered through a horrible car accident in 1950 and legends say that the only thing that could have saved him was a blood transfusion. This should have been a cinch because his blood banks were now in active use. However, some historians believe that Drew was not given a blood transfusion that might just have saved his life because of his race.

3. Rosalind Franklin - Before Watson and Crick

Just like Darwin is synonymous with evolution and Newton with gravity, Watson and Crick have become synonymous with DNA. However, there is another scientist who ended up as an unsung hero in the story of the discovery of DNA.

Molecular biologist Rosalind Franklin was the scientist who did the preliminary work of discovering DNA and its structure. The crystallography snapshots that Franklin painstakingly took, showed images of DNA that had never been seen in the past. When Watson and Crick won the Nobel Prize for the double-helix DNA model, they confessed that their work might not have been possible without Franklin's research and images. However, by the time Watson and Crick won the prize in 1962, Franklin had been dead for over 5 years.

Most of her own papers on the structure of DNA were not published, but their availability made the re-discovery of DNA by Watson and Crick possible. Her work also contributed to the research conducted on polio and the tobacco mosaic virus. At the age of 37, Franklin succumbed to ovarian cancer. Her brilliant life has more than enough brightness in it to make her a hero in the pages of science textbooks, but she remains unappreciated.

4. Henrietta Lacks - HeLa Immortal Cell Line

The unappreciated heroes of science need not only be scientists and research doctors. There are some heroes who were just ordinary folk too. Henrietta Lacks was an African-American woman, born in 1920 in the tobacco fields at Virginia. At the age of 31 and after bearing five children, Lacks lost her life to cervical cancer. However, she unwittingly became a hero through the donation of her cells.
Later, it turned out to be a line that didn't die even after a few cell divisions. The HeLa Immortal Cell Line is hugely important in scientific discoveries because the 20 tons of HeLa cells that have been reproduced .Till date, they are exactly identical in nature. This makes them perfect samples for scientific research.

While the achievements of these science heroes are amazing, most of us will have completed college without even hearing about them.