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Series: Women who changed the world - Alice Ball

“I work and I work and still, it seems I have done nothing.” - Alice Ball

Alice Augusta Ball was an African American chemist who developed the “Ball Method” as an effective treatment for leprosy. She received her bachelor’s (pharmaceutical chemistry) degree in addition to a pharmacy degree from the University of Washington. After her graduation, she moved back to Hawaii and pursued her post-graduation studies. At the University of Hawaii, she started working on the chemical makeup and active principle of Piper methysticum (kava) for her master's thesis. On completing her graduation, she was appointed as an instructor in chemistry. And soon after, Alice became the head of the chemistry department at the University of Hawaii at the age of 23.

Following her interest in continuing her research, Alice Ball developed a technique that allowed the oil from chaulmoogra tree seeds in a form which could be injected and absorbed by the body. The technique involved isolating ethyl ester compounds from the fatty acids of the chaulmoogra oil. And this isolation technique is known as the “Ball Method” - the only treatment for Hansen's disease that was effective.

Her work was exemplary and outstanding at the time when there was no particular solution to leprosy. But her untimely death at the mere age of 24 was a loss to the scientific world. To celebrate her contribution, February 29 is observed as “Alice Ball Day.” Indeed, in such a short span of time in her life, she achieved so much and thus created an important discovery for humanity. She will be recognized for her accomplishments in the scientific world and is a true inspiration to the rising generation. To find out more, check out “The Ball Method”, a film on her life premiered at the 28th Annual Pan African Film Festival.

With thanks - this post was written by Vrinda Nair.

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