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Selman Waksman

American Jewish Inductees of the National Inventors Hall of Fame

Selman Waksman: Inducted
into the National Inventors
Hall of Fame-2005

by Seymour “Sy” Brody

Selman Abraham Waksman was an American Jewish inductee into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, in 2005, for his discovery of streptomycin, the first antibiotic effective against tuberculosis.

He was born on July 22, 1888, in the village of Novaya Priluka, Russia, which is now the Ukraine. His parents were Jewish and they were constantly confronted with anti-Semitism. After the failure of the 1905 revolution against the Tsar, his family decided to emigrate to the United States.

In 1910, they settled in Metuchen, New Jersey. He received a State of New Jersey scholarship and he enroled in Rutgers University. In 1915, he graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture.

He then was allowed to work for his master’s degree while he became a research assistant for Dr. J. G. Lipman at the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station. In 1916, Waksman became a United States citizen and he received his M.S. degree in agriculture. After graduation, he was appointed a Research Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, and he received his Ph. D. in Biochemistry, in 1918.

Waksman married his childhood sweetheart, Bertha Deborah Mitnik, on August 4, 1916. They had only one child, Byron H. Waksman, M.D., who was born on September 15, 1919.

He became a professor at Rutgers University where he was for more than 40 years, teaching and doing research in biochemistry and microbiology. He had discovered more than twenty antibiotics and procedure which lead to the development of many others. Waksman gave 80 percent of the patent earnings to Rutgers University. In 1951, he established the Institute of Microbiology in association with Rutgers University.

Selman Waksman was the author or coauthor of more than 400 scientific papers and 28 books. During his life, he received 66 awards and 22 honorary awards for his scientific work.

Selman Waksman received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, in 1852, for his discovery of streptomycin, the first antibiotic against tuberculosis. His discovery saved millions of lives.
Dr. Selman Waksman, at age 85, died on August 16, 1973.

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