Google has marked the birthday of French doctor René Théophile Hyacinthe Laënnec who invented the stethoscope, with a doodle. Laënnec would have turned 235 on 17 February.
Born in 1781 in France, he studied medicine under his physician uncle in Nantes before he was called to serve as a medical cadet in the French Revolution. On his return, he resumed his studies in Paris in 1801 and started working in the Necker Hospital when the French monarch was re-established in 1815.
The shy doctor was forced to come up with an innovative alternative to placing his ear on his female patients' chest to listen to their heartbeat when he came across an overweight young woman. Laënnec felt that it was improper to rest his ear on the patient who was complaining of heart problems.
He rolled a piece of paper into a tube and placed it on her chest as a means to listen to her heart. "I happened to recollect a simple and well-known fact in acoustics ... the great distinctness with which we hear the scratch of a pin at one end of a piece of wood on applying our ear to the other," the doctor wrote in the preface to his seminal research paper De l'Auscultation Médiate in 1819.
Laënnec named his invention, the stethoscope. The term stethoscope is derived from the Greek words stethos for chest and scopos for examination. But his invention is not really the one that we see being used by doctors today. His invention comprised of a hollow wooden instrument attached to a single microphone at one end and earpiece at the other end.
His instrument was adopted across France and Europe, before being welcomed by the medical community in the US. What we now call the stethoscope has been fine-tuned further.
But Laënnec never saw the new improved versions. He died of tuberculosis at the age 45 in 1826, He however was fully aware of the importance of his invention which he called "the greatest legacy of my life."
In 1851, Irish doctor Arthur Leared came up with a binaural stethoscope which fitted into both ears and was made of a durable plastic.
Dr Nathan Marsh from Cincinnati came up with the first commercially available instrument which was made of Indian rubber and wood and patented in 1851. Unfortunately, it did not really take off as the instrument was too fragile to be used properly.
However, the following year, New York-based Dr George Cammann adapted the design using ivory earpieces connected to a metal tube held together by a hinge. Known as the Cammann's Stethoscope, variations of the design continue to be in use today. Cammann never patented his design as he believed that it should be freely available to all doctors.
The Doodle by artists Helene Leroux and Olivia Huynh show Laënnec's very first stethoscope, alongside the one we are now all familiar with during our visits to either the hospital or to our GPs.