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Rubin, Benjamin

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Benjamin Rubin

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Benjamin Rubin
(September 27, 1917 - )
Born in the United States
Year of Discovery: 1965
Ingenuous Needle Allowed Smallpox Vaccinations Worldwide

Don't fear the needle, for it could save your life! The world breathed a collective sigh of relief when William Foege and his team developed an effective strategy for systematically fighting smallpox. As late as 1967, this deadly, highly contagious viral disease was killing more than 2 million people every year. Once Foege's strategy was shown to be effective, the top priority became finding a means to quickly vaccinate a huge number of people against the dreaded disease. Microbiologist Benjamin Rubin had exactly the innovative solution required - the bifurcated needle.

In 1965, Rubin began working on an alternative method for providing smallpox vaccinations. The standard method of delivery at the time was the multiple insertion method. Needles were dipped into the vaccine vial and then jabbed into the patient's arm multiple times. This process, though effective, was both painful and time consuming. Rubin sought to simplify the process. His design involved grinding off the end of a sewing machine needle, which opened the thread hole (the eyelet) and resulted in needle that was divided into two branches, like a fork (bifurcated means forked). Rubin found that his new needle would hold just enough vaccine within the small space between the two sections to vaccinate a person with just a few pokes. His design achieved the simplicity he sought, and the needle could easily be replicated in areas that were less developed. Since his bifurcated needle used less of the vaccine, it also meant more people could be vaccinated in areas where the supply of serum was short.

Rubin's needle design was a crucial part of the fight against smallpox. In 1980, the World Health Assembly declared smallpox "defeated." For the first time in history, man had eradicated a deadly disease. Even today, there is no cure for smallpox and, if exposed, over one third of those infected would die from the deadly virus.

D.A. Henderson, director of the World Health Organization's Global Smallpox Eradication Program said, "If ever there was an invention which could be said to have truly benefited mankind . . . it was Ben Rubin's eloquently simple bifurcated needle."


Introduction by April Ingram


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

Invent Now Hall of Fame profile:

Lemelson - MIT program profile:

History Wired discussion of the bifurcated needle (image), mentioning Rubin:

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Key Insight

Key Experiments or Research


Key Contributors

The Team
Explore other scientists who furthered this lifesaving advance.
Lifesavers: Smallpox Vaccine
Bill Foege
Devised the ingenuous strategy
to eradicate smallpox.
Aaron Ismach
Developed the Jet Injector, capable of vaccinating 1,000 people per hour.
Leslie Collier
Perfected the freeze-drying method of producing the vaccine, making mass vaccination possible.
Edward Jenner
Developed the first vaccine against smallpox, using the cowpox from a milkmaid's hands.

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