Sunday, February 12, 2012

Stumbling upon science...

Can you believe that one of the greatest drugs discovered in history was found by accident?  In 1928 Alexander Fleming noticed in his lab that there was mold on one of his plates of bacteria, and around the mold there was an absence of bacteria (  I have been taught throughout my life that Fleming had discovered penicillin, the wonder drug, but I did not know that he discovered it by accident.  It is truly amazing to me is that Fleming was not actively testing mold as an agent to kill bacteria.  He merely discovered it due to his lab being messy.  Based on this one observation, the bacteria free ring around the mold, he was able to make one of the most important scientific discoveries in history.  Many lives would be saved because of Fleming's accidental discovery.  It just goes to show that sometimes the best science can come from making observations of mistakes or accidents.


  1. It's funny that you mention Alexander Fleming. We learned in our Microbiology class a little bit about the history of how he discovered the and how penicillin was purified afterwards.
    Just as you said, he discovered penicillin on accident. It happened when some bacteria cultures, Staphylococcus aureus, he was studying started dissolving when the culture grew to close to a contaminating mold. This mold that was killing the bacteria was what we know as penicillin. It is also fair to say, that Fleming who is so renowned for having discovered penicillin, should not get all the credit. Fleming was not able to purify the compound and gave up on his study of penicillin shortly afterwards.
    It was not until 10 years later when British scientists, Ernst Chain and Howard Florey, were able to successfully purify penicillin.
    We are able to use the antibiotic today because of the great discovery of Fleming's, but also because of the input of Chain and Florey.
    It all ties back to what we discussed in class - even works or discoveries of the past could prove to be useful and can be learned from years or decades or even centuries later!

  2. Accidents have played a huge part in science. In middle school I remember writing an essay about accidental science. The one that I always remember is the microwave. It was discovered when a scientist studying radioactivity/magnetism was standing by one of the machines and a chocolate bar in his pocket melted. He then experimented with the device, and found that it could pop popcorn (no joke). The first microwave oven was built in 1947 and it cost somewhere around $5,000.

    There were a lot more scientific discoveries on accident, but when I think of them, penicillin and microwaves always come to mind.