IEEE Humanitarian Technology Board History Wiki

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This IEEE Humanitarian Technology Board History Wiki is dedicated to elevating recognition and awareness of advancing technology for the benefit of humanity with special emphasis on the Timeline, the People, the Technology and with connections to additional Humanitarian content and resources.

Humanitarian Technology Timeline

1579 -- Ambroise Paré (1510–1590)

Ambroise Pare who was a military physician, treated soldiers and published his complete works, part of which described some of the artificial limbs he fitted on his amputees.

Ambroise Pare Portrait and Images of Prostheses Innovations

1796 -- Dr. Edward Jenner

Dr Edward Jenner (Photo BBC)

Dr. Edward Jenner, FRS FRCPE (17 May 1749 – 26 January 1823) ( was an English country doctor and scientist who lived and worked in Berkeley, Gloucestershire. He is best known for his pioneering work on vaccination against smallpox. In Jenner's time, smallpox killed around 10% of the population, with the number as high as 20% in towns and cities where infection spread more easily. Smallpox also caused long term consequences including disfigurements.

Jenner scientifically tested the use of cowpox to prevent smallpox in 1796. He, like others, had observed that people who had had cowpox did not get smallpox and that dairymaids caught the disease through scratches on their skin when they milked cows. Sarah Nelmes, a dairymaid, is reputed to have informed Jenner that she had acquired cowpox from a Gloucester cow called Blossom and this provided Jenner with an opportunity to test his hypothesis that cowpox could be transferred between people. Knowing that cowpox was a mild disease, Jenner scratched matter from Sarah’s hand into the arm of James Phipps, the 8 year old son of his gardener and observed that the boy became ill with cowpox before quickly recovering. It was the practice at the time to prevent serious cases of smallpox by inoculating people with matter from someone who was suffering from smallpox, a process called variolation. However when Jenner tried to variolate Phipps it had no observable effect. Jenner collected together evidence from a series of case studies, including Phipps, and wrote a paper that he presented to the scientific establishment in London and published at his own expense. It was not long before this new preventative method, subsequently called vaccination (from the latin, vacca, for cow), became used globally. Jenner vaccinated local people for free in a summerhouse in his garden which he called (tongue in cheek) the Temple of Vaccinia and went on to advise people all around the world on methods of safe use and storage. After his death the World Health Organisation (WHO) continued the programme of vaccination and in 1979, declared the disease eradicated. Jenner is frequently called the father of immunology and he is often credited with having saved more lives than the work of any other human being.

Like many educated gentlemen of his time Edward Jenner had very wide interests including dinosaurs, hibernating hedgehogs, soil fertilisers, ballooning and bird migration and applied scientific methodology to increase understanding of all of them. He was awarded a Fellowship of The Royal Society after submitting a paper on the nesting habits of cuckoos.

Edward Jenner was also an active citizen who became Mayor of Berkeley and a Justice of the Peace.  In 1821, he was appointed physician extraordinary to King George IV.  In 2002 Jenner was named in the BBC's list of The 100 Greatest Britons.

Jenner’s legacy is relevant to our 2020 experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic.  Like modern scientists he used systematic observation of nature to create scientific breakthroughs.  He broadened local experience to international processes and demonstrated tenacity in the face of adversity.  He advocated free vaccination for all. The Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford is named in his honour and developed one of the first vaccines against SARS-CoV-2.  The story of Jenner's life and his legacy of vaccination truly provides a 'project for our time' to share and engage with schools, the community and a wider audience.

Dr Edward Jenner Smallpox Vaccination, Immunology

1847 -- Dr. Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis (1 July 1818 – 13 August 1865)

Borsos & Doctor Semmelweis Ignác cropped.jpg

Dr. Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis (from Wikipedia) Initiated handwashing using of a solution of chlorinated lime (calcium hypochlorite) after autopsies and examining patients to potentially destroy particles potentially being transmitted and causing infections. The maternal mortality rate (MMR) was was reduced in one clinic by 90% from an April 1847 rate of 18.3% to a June rate of 2.2, July 1.2% and August 1.9%. However, his peers did not accept his methods and believed he was losing his mind. He died of sepsis two weeks after being admitted to an asylum. Semmelweis Museum:

Yearly mortality rates 1784-1849.

For more information, see Wikipedia link above.

Maternal Mortality and Morbidity is a significant problem and an indicator of the quality of healthcare systems locally and globally. More information may be found in the IEEE New Jersey Coast Section, Standards, and Humanitarian Technologies related Webinar Series.

IEEE Standards, Humanitarian, PACE initiatives in Maternal Mortality and Morbidity

Excerpts from Wikipedia link above:

"Only belatedly did his observational evidence gain wide acceptance; more than twenty years later, Louis Pasteur's work offered a theoretical explanation for Semmelweis' observations: the germ theory of disease."

"Other legacies of Semmelweis include:

  • Semmelweis is now recognized as a pioneer of antiseptic policy.
  • Semmelweis University, a university for medicine and health-related disciplines (located in Budapest, Hungary), is named after Semmelweis.
  • The Semmelweis Museum of Medical History is located in the house where he was born.
  • The Semmelweis Klinik, a hospital for women located in Vienna, Austria.
  • The Semmelweis Hospital in Miskolc, Hungary.
  • The Semmelweis Hospital in Kiskunhalas, Hungary.
  • In 2008, Semmelweis was selected as the motif for an Austrian commemorative coin.
  • Minor planet 4170 Semmelweis is named after him.
  • A postage stamp was issued by Hungary on 1 July 1932 in the Famous Hungarians series: Stamp:Ignác Semmelweis (1818~1865), physician
  • Inclusion as a Google Doodle to promote handwashing beginning on 20 March 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The Ignác Semmelweis Prize, the most prestigious Hungarian medical award.
  • On 13 January 2023, a Bust of Semmelweis was unveiled at the Queen Mary University of London."

Current Trends in Maternal Mortality. The causes of maternal death are mostly preventable.

Maternal Mortality mostly preventable table WHO.

Current Trends in Maternal Mortality by Region:

Maternal Mortality by Region WHO

1854 -- Emil von Behring (15 March 1854 - 31 March 1917)

Emil von Behring Nobel Laureate of Charite

Emil von Behring (German pronunciation: [ˈeːmiːl fɔn ˈbeːʁɪŋ] ; Emil Adolf von Behring), born Emil Adolf Behring (15 March 1854 – 31 March 1917), was a German physiologist who received the 1901 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, the first one awarded in that field, for his discovery of a diphtheria antitoxin. He was widely known as a "saviour of children", as diphtheria used to be a major cause of child death. His work with the disease, as well as tetanus, has come to bring him most of his fame and acknowledgment. He was honoured with Prussian nobility in 1901, henceforth being known by the surname "von Behring."

Emil von Behring

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1901 Prize motivation: “for his work on serum therapy, especially its application against diphtheria, by which he has opened a new road in the domain of medical science and thereby placed in the hands of the physician a victorious weapon against illness and deaths”

Diptheria and Tetanus vaccination CDC

1914 -- Marie Curie and Irene Curie

“I am resolved to put all my strength at the service of my adopted country, since I cannot do anything for my unfortunate native country just now...” --letter from Marie Curie to Paul Langevin, January 1, 1915

Marie Curie, Nobel Laureate, and her daughter, Irene Joliot-Curie, Nobel Laureate, developed and operated mobile X-ray ambulance unites that were deployed in the field during World War I. Prior to this innovation, many people lost limbs from surgeries performed to treat minor injuries. With X-ray available on the scene in the field, trained personnel were able to identify injuries that were treatable without amputation, and injuries that required more conservative care. This transformed triage, healthcare, and is credited as saving millions of lives.

To read the IEEE SPECTRUM article, "How Marie Curie Helped Save a Million Soldiers During World War I," follow this link to the article by Amanda Davis.

Irene Curie and Marie Curie.

How Marie Curie Helped Save a Million Soldiers During World War I, The radiology pioneer developed and operated mobile X-ray units to treat the injured, by Amanda Davis 01 Feb 2016 3 min read

Marie Curie in her xRay Ambulance 1917, photo Smithsonian.

Marie Curie, nee Sklodowska, 7 November 1867 - 4 July 1934, photo Nobel Prize Archives

Irene Joliot-Curie 12 September 1897 - 17 March 1956, photo Nobel Prize Archive

1880 -- Sister Elizabeth Kenny (20 September 1880 - 30 November 1952)

Sister Elizabeth Kenny

Sister Elizabeth Kenny (20 September 1880 – 30 November 1952) was a self-trained Australian bush nurse who developed an approach to treating polio that was controversial at the time. Her method, promoted internationally while working in Australia, Europe and the United States, differed from the conventional one of placing affected limbs in plaster casts. Instead she applied hot compresses, followed by passive movement of the areas to reduce what she called "spasm". Her principles of muscle rehabilitation became the foundation of physical therapy or physiotherapy in such cases.

Sister Elizabeth Kenny revolutionized physical therapy, applying novel treatments for polio patients globally.

Alexander Graham Bell and Mabel Gardiner Hubbard Bell

Alexander Graham Bell and Mabel Gardiner Hubbard Bell; The Alexander & Mabel Bell Legacy Foundation

1929 - 1940 -- Discovery of Penicillin - Antibiotics

1945 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine Penicillin

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1945 was awarded jointly to Sir Alexander Fleming, Ernst Boris Chain and Sir Howard Walter Florey "for the discovery of penicillin and its curative effect in various infectious diseases"

MLA style: The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1945. Nobel Prize Outreach AB 2023. Fri. 1 Dec 2023. <>


The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for 1945 was awarded jointly to Alexander Fleming, Ernst Boris Chain and Howard Walter Florey “for the discovery of penicillin and its curative effect in various infectious diseases.” To Fleming is owed the discovery of penicillin and to Chain and Florey, the recognition of its therapeutic powers. By the strangest of chances Fleming found that a mold, contaminating a petri dish on which staphylococci were growing, had dissolved or lysed the bacteria. A liquid culture of this common Penicillium mold exuded a substance he called penicillin, responsible for this lysis. Even though the crude penicillin was nontoxic when Fleming injected it into mice, he never tried to see whether the substance would cure mice infected with a virulent bacterium, such as streptococci. The reason Fleming did not even try to do this simple experiment was that the prevailing dogma at that time was that immunotherapy rather than chemotherapy was the way to treat infectious diseases.

The discovery of the therapeutic properties of penicillin by Chain and Fleming in 1940, after a lapse of fifteen years, came about from their curiosity about enzymes which lyse bacterial walls, believing penicillin to be such an enzyme much like a lytic enzyme, called lysozyme, which Fleming had discovered before penicillin. “The possibility that penicillin could have practical use in clinical medicine did not enter our minds when we started our work on penicillin”, said Chain. “I started to work on penicillin in 1938, long before the outbreak of the war. The frequently repeated statement that the work was started as a contribution to the war effort, to find a chemotherapeutic agent suitable for the treatment of infected war wounds, has no basis. The only reason which motivated me to start the work on penicillin was scientific interest.”


Basic Research, the Lifeline of Medicine

by Arthur Kornberg

1959 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine

1941 -- United Nations

United Nations flag cropped

1952 -- Dr. Virginia Apgar (7 June 1909 - 7 August 1974)

Dr. Virginia Apgar, age 20.
Dr. Virginia Apgar, age 20.

1952 -- Dr. Virginia Apgar (7 June 1909 - 7 August 1974) developed The Apgar evaluation which became standard practice, reduces infant mortality, and is now performed on all children born in hospitals worldwide.

Dr Virginia Apgar and Apgar Test Related Images

1986 -- Dr. Patricia Bath MD (1942 - 2019)

Dr Patricia Bath from National Inventors Hall of Fame

1986 -- Dr. Patricia Bath MD (1942 - 2019) discovered and invented a new device and technique for cataract surgery known as laserphaco. Two million in the United States and 10 million globally have cataract surgery each year.

National Inventors Hall of Fame:

"The ability to restore sight is the ultimate reward," she said.

Inspiration: My love of humanity and passion for helping others inspired me to become a physician.

Dr Patricia Bath and Patent Image

2020 -- Dr Kizzmekia Corbett

Dr Kizzmekia Corbett Scientific Lead on the Moderna COVID-19 mRNA vaccine team.

2020 -- Dr Katalin Kariko and Dr Drew Weissman

2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine mRNA Vaccine Dr Katalin Kariko and Dr Drew Weissman

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2023 was awarded jointly to Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman "for their discoveries concerning nucleoside base modifications that enabled the development of effective mRNA vaccines against COVID-19"

Humanitarian Technology History

Recent article showcasing a Humanitarian Technologies project funded by IEEE EPIC for people with blindness: low cost wearable device for the visually impaired.

This IEEE Humanitarian Technology Board History Wiki is dedicated to elevating recognition and awareness of advancing technology for the benefit of humanity with special emphasis on the Timeline, the People, the Technology and with connections to additional Humanitarian content and resources.