The large atrium at the new School of Public Health building has more history than you might think. Now, granted, the building itself is brand new. But, if you really know what you are looking for- it is pretty incredible. Right there, by the grand staircase, the front desk and conference rooms, right were you find the electronic directory of SPH faculty and staff, used to be Jonas Salk’s laboratory.
In the late thirties Jonas Salk, still a student at the time, began working with Dr. Thomas Francis (the same guy one of the Public Health Buildings was named after) and was later appointed head of the epidemiology department at the newly formed School of Public Health at the University of Michigan. There, he developed the influenza vaccine with Dr. Francis, and the beginnings of the “splendid solution” known as the polio vaccine (later perfected in Pittsburg).
Jonas Salk and his team eradicated one of the most vicious child killers of their time. Standing on the spot where it all began feels pretty amazing. Looking around, watching students walk to class, meet in the conference rooms to finalize their group presentations, going to the café to grab a cup of coffee or chatting with their professors. I wonder if one of us will be the next Jonas Salk.
Or the next Albert Wheeler, who became Ann Arbor’s first African American mayor and the University’s first African American tenured professor. Or the next Julio Frenk, who was the Minister of Health of Mexico. Or Dr. Kimberlydawn Wisdom, the nation’s first state surgeon general, appointed in 2003. Or the next Larry Brilliant, head of the Google Foundation, Google’s Philanthropic organization with assets of over 1 billion dollars. They were all here once.
It all seems possible standing on this very spot in the atrium.