Today’s Google Doodle is celebrating what would have been the 142nd birthday of Chinese-Malaysian epidemiologist Dr Wu Lien-teh. After an unknown epidemic hit north-west China in 1910, it was Dr Wu who identified it as a pneumonic plague, and invented a new type of surgical face mask to reduce transmission. His masks were made of several layers of cotton and gauze, to filter inhalations, and are widely considered the precursor to the N95 mask, which have been used widely during the Covid-19 pandemic. The i newsletter latest news and analysisCambridge UniversityDr Wu was born into a family of Chinese immigrants in Penang, Malaya (modern-day Malaysia) on 10 March 1879. He went on to become the first student of Chinese descent to earn his doctorate from the University of Cambridge. After completing his studies, he accepted a position as the vice director for China’s Imperial Army Medical College in 1908. Two years later, the epidemic that came to be known as the Manchurian plague hit China, and Dr Wu was appointed by the Chinese Government to investigate the disease. A portrait of Dr Wu (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)Manchurian plagueAfter being allowed to conduct a postmortem on a Japanese woman who had died from the virus, Dr Wu concluded that it spread from human to human through respiratory transmission. In response he developed and oversaw the production and distribution of 60,000 surgical face masks, making the Manchurian plague the first epidemic in history that saw widespread wearing of masks. Dr Wu also worked with the Government to establish quarantine stations and hospitals, restrict travel, and apply progressive sterilisation techniques. But the biggest turning point in the epidemic came when he asked for imperial sanction to cremate victims. Days after this practice begin the virus started to decline. Post-plagueIn 1915, Dr Wu founded the Chinese Medical Association, the country’s largest and oldest non-governmental medical organisation. He also led the fight against the 1920-21 cholera pandemic in north-east China, and later became the first director of the National Quarantine Service. In 1935 he became the first Malayan to be nominated for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. He continued to practice medicine until his death in January 1960, at the age of 80.