In 2015, Tu Youyou became the first Chinese woman to win a Nobel Prize for her work in helping to create an anti-malaria medicine. But she didn’t have a medical degree. She worked as a researcher at the Academy of Chinese Traditional Medicine. Pouring over 523 ancient texts, her team discovered a brief reference to a substance known as sweet wormwood which had been used in 400 AD to treat malaria in China. By isolating an active compound in wormwood and then heating it gently, Tu Youyou found that compound—artemisinin—could successfully attack malaria-friendly parasites. What’s more, she then enlisted to be the first human to try a drug now credited with saving millions of lives.
Photo credit: Jim Gathany / CDC