Several weeks ago an envious colleague sent John F. Enders, associate Professor of Bacteriology and Immunology at the Medical School, a photograph of Sweden's only lady mayer shown sun-bathing on the beach of her municipality a few miles outside Stockholm. Enders kept it on his desk to remind himself that he had an important engagement with another official of Sweden in Stockholm today.
For this afternoon, research scientist Enders-an unknown figure outside his field will most the King of Sweden and become the seventh member of the Harvard faculty to receive the Noble Prize.
With him will be two associates, co-recipients of the prize, Dr. Thomas H. Weller of the Harvard School of Public Heath, and Dr. Frederick C. Robbins, formerly a research associate in pediatrics at Harvard, now with the Western Reserve Medical School in Cleveland.
Tomorrow, following a banquet given by King Gustav VI for all Noble winners, Enders will deliver before the Swedish Royal Academy of Science the Noble Lecture--written by the three men-and required annually of all winners in the field of science. He will tell how three men in a tiny laboratory at the Children's Hospital followed logical scientific methods to discover the long-sought method of cultivating polio virus in a test-tube. Although their methods were only a slight modification of a research technique first introduced in 1907, they produced a discovery sufficiently significant to inspire the nation-wide Salk Vaccine campaign of 1954.
Moral In Clear
The story behind that discovery might well serve as a modern-day case book in the study of the scientific method. To Enders, the moral is clear: success comes through the persistent use of basic research methods; honor comes only to that research scientist who is only to that research scientist who is fortunate enough to make a final discovery on top of a long string of earlier advancement.
As he said in accepting the Passano Award in 1953 for culturing polio viruses in living tissues:
"I should be especially pleased if I succeed in adding another example to the myriads afforded by the history of science of the general truth expressed so admirably by my former master. Hans Zinsser." And then he went on to quote the colorful professor at the Medical School who wrote in the 1920's "Rats, Lice and History."
"It is an erroneous impression," Zinsser said, " that scientific discovery is often made by inspiration a sort of coup de foudre from on high. This is rarely the case. As a rule the scientist takes off from the manifold observation of his predecessors and shown his intelligence, if any, by his ability to discriminate between the important and the negligible, by selecting here and there the significant stepping stones that will load across the difficulties to new understanding. The one who places the last stone and stops across to the terra firma of accomplished discovery gets all the credit. Only the initiated know and honor those whose patient integrity and devotion to exact observations have made the last stop possible."
Used human Skin
What the trio, under the direction of Enders, had done was select a well-known method of cultivating chicken pox viruses and apply that method to isolating and growing the polio virus. But they had made one important change over previous attempts to grow the virus in a test-tube. It was what Zinsser would have called that last "step across to accomplished discovery." Unlike their predecessors, they had used human skin tissue-instead of nerve tissue-on which to grow the disease. Original as their final step may have been, the three associates regard their success as the by-product of all previous work and research in a field of skin culture that dates at least to 1907.
Nor was their surprise ingenuine when success rather quickly camel in 1948. Enders was to note at a later date. "We were quite surprised and very pleased that it worked." Weller expanded upon the workings of science:
"One doesn't always realize that what one is doing at the time will be successful. In our case, we could hardly believe the results for a while after we had first innoculated the tissue cultures (with polio viruses to get the growing started). And we could not really believes the results until we had conducted extensive tests to gather proof."
"The potentialities of what had happened were, of course, immediately apparent." Enders pointed out. The poliovirus could now be produced in quantity and be sterilized through the method developed to permit mass inoculations the vaccine method was sufficiently developed to permit the mass innoculations against polio last summer.
Prize Followed Others