• Baylor alumna inducted into National Inventors Hall of Fame

    Baylor alumna Allene Rosalind Jeannes

    If you enjoy ice cream, salad dressing, toothpaste, or gluten-free baked goods, then you probably owe a word of thanks to this Baylor alumna who was recently inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

    Meet Allene Rosalind Jeanes, a native Wacoan and 1928 Baylor graduate. After leaving Waco, Jeanes earned her master’s degree from Berkeley, then a PhD in organic chemistry from the University of Illinois. Earlier this year — more than 20 years after her passing at age 89 — Jeanes was honored by the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Here’s why:

    Jeanes spent most of her career with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Northern Regional Research Lab, researching polysaccharides, or large molecules made of chains of thousands of sugar molecules. One of the polysaccharides she researched most was dextran, as Jeanes and her fellow researchers believed hospitals could use it to replace blood plasma, slowing bleeding and preventing a countless number of deaths; but it was hard to find in nature, and even harder to mass-produce.

    Then one day, a soft drink company asked Jeanes to investigate why their product had become thick and gooey. She found the drink had been contaminated by a strain of bacteria, producing tons of dextran. She’d found their method for mass production, and the researchers saw its first useful application treating injured Korean War soldiers.

    Baylor alumnas Allene Jeans John F. Kennedy

    Allene R. Jeanes (far left) with American President John F. Kennedy. (Abbie Rowe, White House Photograph – The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.)

    Later, Jeanes developed a process for mass-producing another polysaccharide: xanthan gum, which keeps substances like oil and vinegar from separating and prevents ice crystals from forming. Today, it’s commonly used in foods like ice cream, condiments and gluten-free breads, and in cosmetic, automotive and healthcare products.

    Before her death in 1995, Jeanes had received 10 patents and produced 60 publications on her work and discoveries. She was honored with many awards for her accomplishments, including the 1953 Distinguished Service Award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture; she was the first woman to ever receive this honor. Her posthumous induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame puts Jeanes right alongside such great American inventors as Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.

    Sic ’em, Allene Jeanes!

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