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Do scientific discoveries happen more by accident or design?

Learning Outcomes:

* To identify the importance of the discovery of penicillin.
* To identify and evaluate the reasons for the discovery and manufacture of penicillin as a drug widely available by the late 1940s.

Video Starter: Fleming and the discovery of Penicillin


Title: Fleming and the discovery of penicillin

Duration: 01:39

Description: This short clip begins with an interview with Sir Alexander Fleming. He recreates how he discovered that the staphylococcus bacterium could not grow near the penicillium fungus which had contaminated his petri dish. With thanks to Akzo Nobel.

From BBC Class Clips

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Read about Fleming's work on these recommended websites:

The British Library: a noble life in Science.

BBC Historic figures

History Learning Site - Fleming and Penicillin

Now check your understanding of the development of penicillin b attempting this exercise on


Using the information from the links above and the chart below create an interative poster (a glog) illustrating how different factors combined to lead to the discovery and development of penicilin.

The discovery of penicillin


Person What the advance was Why it was important/ what the effect was
1928 Fleming He discovered a mould that he called penicillin. It killed other bacteria. It was anti-biotic. He could not grow this mould in large quantities.
Late 1930s Florey and Chain They made pure penicillin by freeze drying it. This penicillin was given to mice that had been infected with harmful bacteria. The mice survived. The uses of penicillin were clear.
1941 Florey and Chain They performed the first human experiment using penicillin. It was given to a patient suffering from a terrible infection. The experiment was a success as the infection was reduced but there was not enough of it to kill the infection completely. The patient died.
1942 US drug companies These companies mass-produced penicillin. Now infections and infectious diseases could be treated. The fight against disease was won.
Late 1940s Walksman He found that antibiotics were in soils. TB could be fought effectively. But soon it would become resistant to this anti-biotic.
Note: this table has been taken from a worksheet that a coleague passed to me. Unfortunately I do not know who originally created this resource and am unable to cite the author. If you recognise it, please let me know so that the appropriate acknowledgements can be made.













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