Sir Alexander Fleming

Photo of Sir Alexander Fleming

Sir Alexander Fleming is famous for discovering penicillin the most commonly used anti-biotic known to man. He was born in Ayrshire in 1881 and followed his brother to London to study medicine in 1901. He qualified and entered into research as a bacteriologist before lecturing on the subject.

When war broke out he served as a captain in the Army Medical Corps and his experience with infected wounds drove his research to find an effective anti-biotic. In 1928 he discovered penicillin in one of his forgotten culture dishes which had gone mouldy. Little attention was paid to his discovery as Fleming struggled to produce it in large enough quantities. His discovery was worked upon further by Ernst Chain, Howard Florey and Norman Heatley and by 1945 penicillin was mass produced and distributed widely saving many lives. Fleming, Chain and Florey were given a joint Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1945 for their work.

Fleming did not patent penicillin hoping that this would help develop a cheap and effective drug. It is impossible to calculate how many lives have been saved by his discovery but it is certainly at least several million.

Fleming died of a heart attack in 1955 and was buried as a national hero in St Paul´s Cathedral in London.