If you used Google today you certainly noticed today’s Google Doodle scientist—George Nicholas Papanicolaou (Georgios Nikolaou Papanikolaou), inventor of the Pap smear test that enabled the early discovery of cervical cancer and other diseases. There are a few bits of information that suggests that Papanikolaou was a scientist of faith:
- He was buried from St. Sophia Orthodox church in Miami.
- The journal Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine has an interview with Dr. Neda Voutsa-Perdiki, who wrote a 2016 book in Greek whose title in translation is Dr George and Mache-Mary Papanicolaou - As I knew them (published by the Medical Council of Athens, Greece). Dr. Voutsa-Perdiki states that “The secret of his [Papanicolaou’s] scientific success was hard work, dedication, love of research, faith and the courage he gained from his wife and colleagues.” Dr. Voutsa-Perdiki also states that “He [Papanicolaou] frequently referred to the Easter season, especially to the mystagogy of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and the byzantine melodies of the church. In Kyme, as a child, he used to sing at the church those days himself. For this reason, he used to spend his Easter holidays with his nephew Vaggelis Stamatiou and his family, who lived close to Dr Papanicolaou's house in Douglaston.”
- An article in the Singapore Medical Journal notes that “In 1904, he graduated from medical school with top honours. After graduation, Papanicolaou worked in the military as an assistant surgeon for a short time, then returned to his hometown, Kimi. For the next two years, he cared for leprosy patients on the outskirts of his hometown. These outcasts were socially isolated, and Papanicolaou gave them both medical and personal care with compassion and grace.”
- An article in the New York Times from 1978 about the planting of a tree at Cornell University Manhattan Medical College in honor of Papanicolaou notes that the tree (which was grown from a seedling obtained from the tree under which the Greek physician Hippocrates is said to have received patients in the latter part of the fifth century B.C.) was blessed by The Most Rev. Iakovos, primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in North and South America at the time.
This post is just something I quickly put together based on a very little bit of research, so please do not consider it any sort of definitive statement on Dr. Papanicolaou. If you like this little post, and you like how it is a completely different perspective from anything else you would have found when you clicked that Google Doodle, then consider clicking right here and supporting the outfit that makes this possible—the Vatican Observatory Foundation. The VOF is the outfit that keeps the Vatican’s U.S. telescope (on Mount Graham in Arizona) running. That’s why this blog exists—to keep that telescope doing science. Support the blog—support the telescope—support science.