pinflix yespornplease
Clements, John

A Community of Rambunctious Scholars Celebrating People
Who Have Made Lifesaving Discoveries And Encouraging
Students and Politicians to Read 1000 Science Stories!

John Clements

How fast can you count to this #?

We Need Your Help!

Do You Know This Scientist?

If you do, we welcome your input.  Please share your funny stories, brief anecdotes, quotes, and photos of the scientist - as well as your own inspirational opinions.  Personal accounts help bring a scientist alive and create an enduring historical picture.  You can be a part of this exciting history by providing your personal account! 

Please click here to learn more about how to contribute:
Participate as a Friend Scholar

Can You Write or Research?

Help us learn more about this great scientist.  You can be a credited Support Scholar by contributing your knowledge about this scientist and important discovery.  Entries can be as short as a single section and as easy as compiling quotes.  Click here to learn more about becoming a Support Scholar:
Participate as a Support Scholar

Would you like to adopt a scientist?

Endeavor to research all the sections of a scientist. Click here to learn how to be an Expert Scholar.
Participate as an Expert Scholar

Have Historically Significant Photographs?
Participate with Photos

Click here for all the ways you can participate:
Participate to


Has this scientist’s science impacted your life?
Click here to tell your story or to read others’ life changing anecdotes:
Post Your Own Testimonial

John Clements
(1923 - )
Born in the United States
Year of Discovery: 1959



Image Courtesy: Lasker Foundation

Found Missing Substance in Lungs of Premature Babies - Led to Many Lives Saved!

Some young men like football, others like politics, and still others prefer the fine arts. John Clements liked chemistry. Attending Cornell on a scholarship, he found its rigorous chemistry program to be “immense fun.” But the events of World War II soon altered the course of his life. Clements volunteered for an accelerated program at Cornell Medical College and earned his medical degree in 1947. Then, in the early 1950s, he again volunteered his services – this time to the Army Chemical Center in Maryland. It was here Clements was thrust into studying the impact of chemical warfare agents, an area that first sparked his interest in the surface tension of the lungs. This experience proved to be critical to his later discovery of surfactant. This is the substance in the lungs’ airspaces that allows them to remain expanded when they exhale. Surfactant is missing in premature babies and this causes respiratory distress syndrome (RDS). Clements’ discovery laid the groundwork for the development of a surfactant replacement therapy for premature infants.

Premature babies, especially those born before 28 weeks gestation, are often unable to produce their own surfactant. Prior to Clements’ discovery, doctors were at a loss as to how to treat these infants, and often watched helplessly as the infants struggled for breath and then died. Clements’ discovery of surfactant led to the development of replacement therapy for premature infants and has been credited with saving over 830,000 lives.

Clements did not choose to study lungs. He was assigned the task of determining the impact of nerve gas on the lungs when he worked for the army. This set the stage. He was fascinated with his work, especially the aspect of the surface tension of the lungs. After the war ended there was still funding in place, and Clements and others enthusiastically pursued their research. Clements set up a rigorous protocol to study the lungs’ surface tension.. He measured the surface tension of the lung both when it was expanded, as in inhalation, and when it was compressed, as in exhalation. Clements, like many scientific pioneers, had to make due. When he wanted to study the dynamic aspects of the lungs’ surface tension, there was no suitable experimental equipment. So he improvised, creating a crude device that was described by one medical historian as being “made from sealing wax, chewing gum, string and other odds and ends.”  It was this ingenious design that led to his discovery of surfactant. Once Clements identified surfactant, other physicians and researchers joined in his enthusiasm. This led to new treatments for RDS, including the development of respiratory ventilation machines that provided support during exhalation as well as inhalation. This allowed the tiny alveoli to remain open. Clements later produced the first synthetic surfactant approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for clinical use. Several other replacement surfactants have been produced thanks to Clements’ discovery, and infant deaths due to respiratory distress syndrome have plummeted.



Introduction by Tim Anderson


Table of Contents


Links to More Information About the Scientist

Key Insight

Key Experiment or Research

Key Contributors
Quotes by the Scientist

Quotes About the Scientist


Fun Trivia About The Science

The Science Behind the Discovery

Personal Information

Science Discovery Timeline

Recommended Books About the Science

Books by the Scientist

Books About the Scientist


Major Academic Papers

Curriculum Vitae

Links to Science and Related Information on the Subject



Links to More About the Scientist & the Science

The University of California San Francisco interview with Clements (pdf):

FASEB Journal article detailing Clement's role in discovering surfactant:

Wikipedia discussion of pulmonary surfactant:

Sliders & Images here

Image Flow Here

Key Insight

Key Experiments or Research


Key Contributors

The Team
Explore other scientists who furthered this lifesaving advance.
Lifesavers: Surfactant
Mary Ellen Avery
Completed research on surfactants that saved babies with Respiratory Distress Syndrome.
Tetsuro Fujiwara
Developed a successful surfactant delivery method to treat Respiratory Distress Syndrome.

Quotes by the Scientist

Quotes About the Scientist


Fun Trivia About the Science

The Science Behind the Discovery

Personal Information

Scientific Discovery Timeline

Recommended Books About the Science

Books by the Scientist

Books About the Scientist



Major Academic Papers Written by the Scientist

Curriculum Vitae

Links to Information on the Science