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Benjamin Rubin

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Benjamin A. Rubin (September 27, 1917 – March 8, 2010) was an American microbiologist and inventor of the bifurcated needle. His invention is used in hundreds of millions of vaccinations around the world and played a key role in the World Health Organization's successful campaign to eliminate smallpox. Rubin received his BS in biology-chemistry from the College of the City of New York, his MS in biology from Virginia Polytechnic Institute, and in 1947, his PhD in microbiology from Yale University. He also held patents in radiation devices, vaccines, steroid chemistry, and microbiology.[1]


Smallpox has historically been one of the deadliest diseases in human history. Its origins are unclear but appears to have first arisen in ancient Egypt (1570–1085 BCE) before spreading to India and later Europe. Since then, it repeatedly ravaged different parts of the world in devastating outbreaks.[2] During the 20th century as many as 300 million people were killed by it.[3][4] One of the first major steps in combating the disease was the invention of the smallpox vaccine by Edward Jenner in 1792.

Bifurcated needle[edit]

A jet injector gun from the 1980s.
The iconic two pronged needle.

In 1965, Rubin designed the bifurcated needle in conjunction with engineer Gus Chakros by grinding down the eyelet of a sewing machine needle, pushing the eyelet into a fork shape. The refinements Rubin made to his ground-sewing-needle design yielded the now-familiar bifurcated (fork-shaped) needle. He discovered that the small space between the tines could hold enough vaccine to inoculate a person with a just a few injections. Prior to his invention about two million people per year died from smallpox worldwide and treating against smallpox en masse was a difficult procedure that involved the use of expensive and unwieldy jet injectors. Unlike the jet-injector, Rubin’s needle was very cheap, costing less than $5 for a thousand needles. A bifurcated needle can be sterilized with boiling water or holding it over a flame so it can be continually reused. Furthermore, the patient's skin did not need to be disinfected beforehand. Finally, the bifurcated needle used substantially less serum, further cutting costs.[5][6]


  1. "Benjamin Rubin | Lemelson-MIT Program". Retrieved 2020-01-14.
  2. "History of Smallpox | Smallpox | CDC". 15 February 2019. Retrieved 6 January 2020.
  3. Riedel, S. (2005, January). Edward Jenner and the history of smallpox and vaccination. In: Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings (Vol. 18, No. 1, pp. 21-25). Taylor & Francis.
  4. Microbe hunters, then and now. Medi-Ed Press. 1996. p. 23.
  5. "Benjamin Rubin | Lemelson-MIT Program". Retrieved 2020-01-14.
  6. "Heroes of Progress, Pt. 32: Benjamin Rubin". Human Progress. Retrieved 2020-01-14.