For as long as human beings have given birth, they’ve also often struggled with the process. Even today, those who wish to get pregnant are sometimes unable to do so naturally due to limitations beyond their control. Today’s Google Doodle honors Anne McLaren, a reproductive biologist who made the issue of childbearing the driving force behind her research. McLaren’s pioneering experiments in the realm of mammalian development directly led to the development of in vitro fertilization (IVF) technology, which has since helped countless sets of would-be parents realize their dreams of bringing a child into the world.
Born in 1927, McLaren lived through unusual circumstances as a child: she played a bit part in the 1936 H.G. Wells sci-fi movie The Shape of Things to Come, a fictional activity that inspired a lifelong love of the practical sciences. She grew up to study zoology at the University of Oxford, moving on to work with mice in order to better understand development and reproduction. Her breakthrough was figuring out how to grow mouse embryos using lab equipment, which implied that much larger mammals could eventually develop in a similar fashion.
Indeed, twenty years later, this technique was first successfully used with humans. Later in her life, McLaren became the first woman to hold office (as the Foreign Secretary) of the Royal Society, a 330-year-old scientific institution that happens to be the world’s oldest. However, official designations aside, it’s McLaren’s cascading impact on families all around the world that’s most important. IVF technology has consistently re-written the stories of innumerable would-be families who’d begun to despair, assuming that they’d never have the children they longed for. The Google Doodle that’s been made in her honor is somewhat understated, but it highlights the impact of someone who did so much for others.