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Benjamin Harrison Willier is considered one of the most versatile embryologists to have ever practiced in the US. His research spanned most of the twentieth century, a time when the field of embryology evolved from being a purely descriptive pursuit to one of experimental research, to that of incorporating molecular biology into the research lab. Willier was born on 2 November 1890 near Weston, Ohio to Mary Alice Ricard. He spent his childhood doing farming chores and running the farm while his father, David Willier worked as a banker.
Twentieth-century researcher Ernest John Christopher Polge studied the reproductive processes of livestock and determined a method to successfully freeze, thaw, and utilize viable sperm cells to produce offspring in animals. In 1949, Polge identified glycerol as a cryoprotectant, or a medium that enables cells to freeze without damaging their cellular components or functions. Several years later, Polge used glycerol in a freezing process called vitrification, which enabled him to freeze poultry sperm, thaw that sperm, and use it to fertilize vertebrate embryos.