Film Independent

The Kitchen Chemist's War


Sloan Grant Won: 
2015, Screenwriting, University of California, Los Angeles

Project Type: Feature
Genre: Drama
Length: 91 pages
Field of Science: Immunology, Virology
Stage: Development


Searching for a polio vaccine that’d save millions of lives, while facing resistance from his fellow scientists, Jonas Salk risks everything he has by testing it first on himself and his family, only to find out that he has become the target of a government investigation.


In 1950, an FBI investigation is launched against Dr. Jonas Salk who’s leading the search for a Polio vaccine. He’s believed to be a Soviet agent. He faces innumerable detractors, none more hostile than Dr. Albert Sabin, who famously calls him “a mere kitchen chemist”. On the cusp of a breakthrough, his lab is sealed off by the FBI. Desperate to prove his honest intentions, Salk inoculates himself and his family with his vaccine.

This sacrifice gains the trust of the scientific community and the vaccine is announced on April 12, 1955. Salk then refuses to patent the vaccine, as he famously quips, “Could you patent the sun?”, thereby letting it reach the poorest of the poor across the world.


Arkesh Ajay is an Indian writer-director, currently a part of the UCLA MFA Directing program. He recently directed one part of the four-part anthology feature Mississippi Requiem, an adaptation of William Faulkner stories set in 1930s-Mississippi with James Franco, Topher Grace, and Alicia Witt in lead roles.