The discovery and development of Penicillin from just a simple substrate right up to a real drug is truly a remarkable story in the history of science. Thanks this huge investigation work the Oxford research group at the "Sir William Dunn School of Pathology" were able to save more than 82,000,000 lives, up until the present day.

Thank you very much! Howard W. Florey, Norman G. Heatley, Ernst B. Chain et al.

"It is the technologist who is transforming at least the outward trappings of modern civilization and no hard and fast line can or should be drawn between those who apply science, and in the process make discoveries, and those who pursue what is sometimes called basic science."

Lord Howard Walter Florey (1898-1968)

Penicillin - Article

The discovery, the development and the production, from Alexander Fleming up to the Oxford Research Group at the "Sir William Dunn School of Pathology" at University of Oxford with the mastermind of Lord Howard W. Florey.
In collaboration with:
The Museum of the History of Science - Oxford
Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft - Dresden

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The Development of Penicillin: Howard Florey's Surface Culture Method

  • STEP 1: Culture Medium

    The basic and most important step of a biochemical fermentation process is the preparation of a culture medium (nutrient broth). The production of a particular substance in large amounts should be the final result of those processes. Here, the fungus grows on the surface of the culture medium which can produce our particular substance. Every type of fungus grows in a specific way in a different type of medium!
  • STEP 2: Harvesting

    To carry out the harvesting under sterile conditions and with absolut non-contaminated material was the most important fact of all but unfortunately it was far from easy because of the very simple equipment which was used to this point of time. The changing trolley with 4 rectangular porcellain culture vessels on it was the central part of the harvesting process.
  • STEP 3: Counter Current Apparatus

    The counter current apparatus was the heart and the most complex part of the entire early development of Penicillin in Oxford. With the raising of the scale of the production of Penicillin and the brewing of more and more culture medium the researcher in Oxford needed to develop bigger and more efficient extractors to increase the amount of the Penicillin production significantly.
  • STEP 4: Separating Funnels

    Extracting of the Penicillin substance from the amyl acetate. A wooden framework was used with 2x 1 gallon glass bottles and a little separating funnel in the middle area. The upper bottle is from the extraction of Penicillin with the counter current apparatus and contains the Penicillin-rich solution with amyl acetate. The lower bottle is now to collect the new watery Penicillin-rich solution.
  • STEP 5: Freeze Drying

    E. P. Abraham suggested in 1941 that the only way to evaporate the aqueous solution of Penicillin to dryness and without loss of activity was to use the freeze-drying method. (evaporation in vacuo from the frozen state) Freeze-drying was developed during World War II because of huge problems with the supply of vaccine and serum, and keeping them chemically stable without the need of refrigeration.
  • STEP 6: Storage

    The support of a commercial company was immediately needed to produce enough material in large-scale industrial production. The very early development and extraction of Penicillin was a very small, impure and very low-active yield after all these efforts of purification and extraction, but it was nonetheless the start of a new era in medicine with a massive influence on the human standard of living.