Google Doodle celebrates surgical face mask inventor Dr. Wu Lien-teh’s 142nd birthday

Google’s logo tribute on Wednesday celebrates the man responsible for saving lives on 2020: the inventor of the surgical face mask. 

The latest Google Doodle honors the Chinese-Malaysian epidemiologist Dr. Wu Lien-teh on what would have been his 142nd birthday. 

Wu invented the surgical face mask, considered the precursor to the N95 mask in response to the Manchurian Plague, which spread in northwestern China in 1910, according to a biography on Google’s website. 

The Chinese government appointed Wu to investigate the disease, which he identified as the highly contagious pneumonic plague that spread from human to human through respiratory transmission. Wu designed and produced a special surgical mask with cotton and gauze, adding several layers of cloth to filter inhalations.

The latest Google Doodle honors the Chinese-Malaysian epidemiologist Dr. Wu Lien-teh on what would have been his 142nd birthday. (Photo: Google)

The Manchurian plague came to an end by April 1911, within four months the government appointing to get the spread under control.

During that epidemic, Wu advised people to wear his newly-invented mask and restrict travel, the same precautions being taken during the COVID-19 pandemic more than 100 years later.

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Wu also worked with government officials to establish quarantine stations and hospitals and apply progressive sterilization techniques.

“We are honored that Google is celebrating our great-grandfather’s birthday,” reads a statement/by his great- granddaughters, Dr. Shan Woo Liu, who now practices medicine herself. “Just over a century ago, he helped fight off a plague in China and developed techniques such as mask-wearing, that we still use today in our battle against COVID-19.”

“She added, “A year ago, I was terrified by how little we knew about the coronavirus. Even now, I struggle to imagine how my great-grandfather must have felt as he cared for patients who had contracted the plague. But I also feel closer to him than ever as I urge my patients to practice social distancing and to wear a mask – the very techniques he pioneered as he rescued China, and possibly the world, from a scourge. Wu Lien-teh remains as much of a hero now as he was then.”

Wu was a trailblazer in other ways as well: he was the first students of Chinese descent to earn a medical degree from England’s Cambridge University. And in 1935, he became the first Malaysian, and the first person of Chinese descent, to be nominated for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work to control the pneumonic plague.

“A devoted advocate and practitioner of medical advancement, Wu’s efforts not only changed public health in China but that of the entire world,” his Google Doodle biography states. 

Wu died in 1960 at the age of 80. 

Follow Coral Murphy on Twitter @CoralMerfi

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