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Sir Alexander Fleming

Updated on November 24, 2014

Sir Alexander Fleming

Sir Alexander Fleming
Sir Alexander Fleming | Source

Study and Service in World War I

Sir Alexander Fleming was born in Lochfield, Scotland, on August 6, 1881. Early on, he developed an interest in medicine, and eventually attended St. Mary's Medical School, London University. At first, he thought about becoming a surgeon, but changed his mind after serving in a temporary capacity in the Inoculation Department and began studying Bacteriology under Sir Almroth Wright, who was a pioneer in vaccine therapy. Fleming earned E.M. and B.S. degrees, and as top student in his class he was awarded a Gold Medal in 1908. He became a lecturer at St. Mary's until 1914, when he entered and served as a Captain in the Army Medical Corps. After the war, he returned to St. Mary's to become a professor there in 1928 and Emeritus Professor of Bacteriology, University of London. His interest in the natural bacterial action in blood, and antiseptics led to his work on antibacterial substances, which led to his discovery of an important bacteriolytic substance that he called Lysozyme.

St. Mary's Hospital
St. Mary's Hospital | Source

Penicillin Discovered

Returning from an extended vacation in September 1928, Fleming returned to his laboratory table to find that a mold had formed on a petri dish that he had forgotten to wash before he went away. He noticed further that the staphylococci, which surrounded the mold had been destroyed. Later, remarking about the incident, he said: "When I woke up just after dawn on September 28, i928, I certainly didn't plan to revolutionize all medicine by discovering the world's first antibiotic, or bacteria killer. But I suppose that was exactly what I did."

Awards and Knighthood

Though he had discovered penicillin, Fleming and a couple of young researchers tried and failed to stabilize and purify the substance. Later, a team of researchers from Oxford University, led by Howard Florey and Ernst Chain, were successful in purifying and stabilizing penicillin. The so-called miracle drug was successful in healing untold thousands of wounded World War II Military. Fleming, Florey and Chain were each awarded a Nobel Prize in Medicine for their heroic efforts.

Fleming was knighted by King George VI in 1944, and he went on to earn honorary doctorate degrees from many Academic Institutions across Europe and America.

In addition to other societies to which he belonged, Fleming was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1943.

Final Thoughts

In all of my research for this essay, Sir Alexander Fleming's discovery of penicillin was called an accident. Perhaps it was, just as it was called accidental when a drop of mucus from his nose fell on a substance he'd been working on caused a reaction that led to the doctor's first important discovery named lysozyme,

When Dr. Fleming received his Nobel Award in 1945, I was just 13 and at death's door when a serious infection developed after an appendectomy. It was decided by my doctors that I be given the new antibiotic named penicillin as a last resort and then I miraculously grew well. I've always felt that a moment of the eternal occurred in that "accident" of Sir Alexander Fleming's, for me, and the millions of people that have been cured over the years.



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