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Public Health Up Close

By Sylvia Eggleston Wehr

Say the words “public health researcher” and a single image comes to mind: a scientist working in a remote village battling mosquitoes and equatorial heat. But at the Bloomberg School, another image is just as fitting: a white-coated scientist peering into a microscope or using an x-ray crystallography machine.

One of the few schools of public health in the nation that has a major bench-science program, the Bloomberg School has always been serious about its “cell-to-society” mission. It was, after all, a central theme for William Henry Welch when he founded the School in 1916. He envisioned a school of “hygiene” (a term that then encompassed basic scientific work at the bench) and “public health” (by which he meant the practice of public health in populations). The tricky part for us today is to explain to non-scientists why this research is so critical to public health. If we’re all about saving lives millions at a time, why study bacteria in Petri dishes?

Before I read “Microcosmos,” this issue’s special section, I myself struggled to fully comprehend the magnitude and scope of our bench work—and I’m here every day. Imagine coaxing a bacterium to fight HIV infection in women. Or staving off Parkinson’s disease with a pill. Or reading people’s genetic make-up to warn those at risk for lung diseases. Our scientists are working on such challenges and solutions for health right now. Brian Simpson, editor of Johns Hopkins Public Health, science writers Kristi Birch and Rod Graham, and senior art director Robert Ollinger worked long and hard to bring the wonder of our scientific endeavors to our varied audience in a comprehensive and accessible way. They’ve done a magnificent job. I urge you to spend some time with this piece because it is simultaneously fascinating and heartening in its description of the unique role that basic science can play in global health. 

To take a daily pulse of the latest scientific discoveries at the Bloomberg School and around the world, turn to the School’s website. Although Johns Hopkins Public Health is secretly my “favorite child” of our communication vehicles, I must say that if you’re not perusing the School’s website several times a week, you are missing a wealth of information. The School’s home page and our new Public Health News Center are wonderful ways to keep up with the School’s work and breaking global health news. And our News Center’s success has spawned another online news digest: the Terrorism and Public Health Preparedness News Center. 

From in-depth reporting in our magazine to the latest news briefs on our website, we hope we are able to convey the challenges and wonders of the School’s work to protect health and save lives.