Often we know of a chemical or a device that helps save lives, but we don't know the person who made it possible. So in the international year of chemistry, we thought we'll introduce you to some such people. One of them is Allene Jeanes.
When a person is injured, she might lose a lot of blood. That can cause a sharp drop in blood pressure leading to death. In such situations, dextran is transfused to the patient. It was Allene Jeanes who discovered a way of making dextran in large quantities. You can read the story of how she found the method in our article on dextran.
Her method was very useful, as it helped saved the lives of many soldiers in the Korean War (1950-53) and other wars. She received the US Department of Agriculture's Distinguished Service Award in 1953 as a mark of gratitude. She also got the Garvan Medal (an award for American Women scientists) in 1956 and the Women's Service Award in 1962.
A good scientist never rests, even after she has made a big discovery. Allene Jeanes was one of them. She spent her life doing research into complex carbohydrates. These are the things that go into starch, cotton and many kinds of gums. (You can read an article about gums here.)
One of the gums she discovered was xanthan. Xanthan is a gum made by a bacterium that Allene Jeanes discovered. It is quite cheap to make, and does all kinds of things, like making jams and soups thicker, jelly more shaky and chewing gum more chewy. In 1968, after hundreds of tests, the US FDA allowed xanthan to be used commercially.
Allene Jeanes was born on 19th July, 1909. She got an MA from the University of California at Berkeley in 1930. In 1938, she got a PhD from the University of Illinois, studying carbohydrates.
In 1940, she joined the Northern Regional Research Laboratory of the US Government's Department of Agriculture. This was where she discovered both dextran and xanthan. She retired in 1976. She died in 1995, aged 89.
So next time you have a family emergency, or are simply chewing gum, do remember Allene Jeanes.