Penicillin Culture Vessel (England), 1940–1941
This is a Penicillin culture vessel.
In 1928, Scottish bacteriologist Alexander Fleming discovered a bacteria-killing mold growing on a Staphylococcus culture. However, producing enough of the purified mold, called penicillin, to allow testing on humans posed a challenge: It grew only on the surface of a nutrient broth and yielded minuscule amounts. In 1940, Dr. Norman G. Heatley of Oxford University designed a shallow, rectangular culture vessel inspired by hospital bedpans then used for culturing to create enough penicillin for testing. Transparent glass, the preferred material, was needed in wartime, so a slip-cast ceramic model was produced instead. The flat-sided containers could be efficiently stacked upright for sterilization and horizontally during incubation. The unglazed exterior prevented slippage during handling and reduced costs. By 1941, the culture vessel had helped produce enough penicillin to test on humans. Penicillin became one of the first drugs to successfully treat bacterial infections, saving thousands of lives during World War II.
It is credited
Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, Cat. M-06669.
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Its dimensions are
H x W x D: 9 × 23.3 × 34.5 cm (3 9/16 × 9 3/16 × 13 9/16 in.)
This object was previously on display as a part of the exhibition Tools: Extending Our Reach.