June (Hart) Almeida grew up in Scotland to a family of modest means. While she was the top science student in her high school, she didn’t have money for college. She took a job as a lab technician. As fate would have it, this job determined the career she would pursue.
She married early and gave birth to a daughter. After divorcing her husband, she and her daughter moved to Canada. With her technician experience, she was able to get a job analyzing specimens using an electron microscope. She became very proficient in using the electron microscope.
The work was tedious. She developed a process called negative staining so she could get a more clear image of the viruses she was examining. Previous images were blurry and not helpful in understanding the structure of the virus. Because of her expertise, she was persuaded to return to England. Working with Professor Waterson, she was able to co-author a number of scientific papers.
She was the first person to visualize the rubella virus and was able to extend knowledge of HIV and Hepatitis B viruses. She began teaching virologists how to use her process. One doctor, whose interest was the common cold, sent her a sample he could not identify because of the images of it were so blurry. She was able to get a clear image of the sample and found it to be similar to a flu virus she had identified earlier. She called it the coronavirus because of its crown like appearance (in Latin crown translates as corona). Her identification was rejected at first, but later proved to be correct.
She was finally able to get a college degree when the University of London awarded her a Masters and Doctorate degree.
She died in 2002 at the age of 77. When the Covid-19 virus struck, her earlier work on coronavirus was finally acknowledged and led to the eventual discovery of vaccine to fight the deadly disease.
Many pioneering hidden heroes find great resistance to their ideas as did Dr. Almeida. As has been the case in many breakthroughs, gender and lack of credentials are often the basis of skepticism and lack of acceptance. Hidden heroes are often not in the “club”, but their work leaves a legacy often surpassing those who are in the establishment.
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“Only one form of contagion travels faster than a virus. And that’s fear.”- Dan Brown (Author)