Langmuir, Alexander

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Alexander Duncan Langmuir was born in Santa Monica, California, on September 12, 1910, and died on November 22, 1993. Langmuir was visionary, clairvoyant, tenacious, and a dedicated public health leader who gave definition to the science of epidemiology as applied to worldwide public health problems. His academic training led him into public health, and he gained field experience working as a public health officer in New York State and as a member of the Armed Forces Epidemiological Board. He taught for three years at the Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health, and in 1949 assumed the position of chief epidemiologist at what is now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), where he remained for twenty-one years. Upon retirement from the CDC, Langmuir served as a visiting professor at both the Harvard University School of Public Health and Johns Hopkins.

His excellence in the practice of epidemiology was recognized by membership in eleven prestigious societies, including the Institute of Medicine. He received multiple awards, including the Bronfman Award from the American Public Health Association and the Dana Foundation Pioneering Achievements in Health Award. He was a frequent consultant on public health issues both in the United States and throughout the world and the author of over 100 scientific publications.

Langmuir's major contributions include defining the practice of applied epidemiology as a science in public health and preventive medicine; development of the two-year Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) training program; developing and promoting public health surveillance as an essential ingredient in the practice of public health; and highlighting the importance of communication in public health. The EIS program is recognized internationally as the premier applied epidemiology training program. Langmuir's hands-on approach to training has spread to more than twenty countries through the development of Field Epidemiology Training Programs, which serve as a vibrant, living memorial to Langmuir's training objectives.

Through his teachings and practice, Langmuir made major contributions to the control and prevention of infectious diseases, including the eradication of smallpox and the control and prevention of poliomyelitis, cholera, vaccine-preventable diseases, and hospital-acquired infections. He was instrumental in carefully defining airborne disease, which led to important mechanisms of control and prevention. An early advocate of the need to apply epidemiological principles to studies of populations and the development of family-planning programs, Langmuir also extended the use of epidemiology in the investigations of cancer and was instrumental in assisting in the development of surveillance programs for birth defects. He was strongly instrumental in assisting in the development of veterinary public health as a discipline, and in the training of veterinarians in applied epidemiology. Langmuir also extended the boundaries of the practice of epidemiology in the control and prevention of public health problems and extended the horizons of the practice of preventive medicine.

Philip S. Brachman

(see also: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Epidemic Intelligence Service; Epidemiology )

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Langmuir, Alexander

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