Sir Alexander Fleming

Sir Alexander Fleming

date of birth : 06/08/1881 | date of death : 11/03/1955
Born on August 6, 1881, Scotland, Scientist, Biologist, His best-known discoveries are the enzyme lysozyme in 1923 and the antibiotic substance penicillin from the mould Penicillium notatum in 1928, for which he shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1945 with Howard Florey and Ernst Boris Chain.

Birth, Birthplace, Time of birth:

Alexander Fleming was born on 6 August 1881 in Ayrshire, Scotland.

Father's name: Hugh Fleming
Mother's name: Grace Stirling Morton
Brother: Thomas Fleming (physician, half-brother)
Children: Robert Fleming

Reputation, fame, nickname:

Amalia Fleming (m. 1953–1955), Sarah Fleming (m. 1915–1949)

Personal Information:

Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight

Life events:

Early life and education

Fleming was a Scottish bacteriologist and Nobel Prize winner, best known for his discovery of penicillin. Alexander Fleming, the seventh of eight children, was born on a farm in rural Lochfield, Scotland, on August 6, 1881. He attended the Louden Moor School, the Darvel School and Kilmarnock Academy before moving to London in 1895, where he lived with his older brother, Thomas Fleming. In London, Fleming finished his basic education at the Regent Street Polytechnic (now the University of Westminster). Fleming was a member of the Territorial Army, and served from 1900 to 1914 in the London Scottish Regiment. He entered the medical field in 1901, studying at St. Mary's Hospital Medical School at the University of London.

Research and discovery

While at St. Mary's, he won the 1908 gold medal as the top medical student. Alexander Fleming had planned to become a surgeon, but a temporary position in the Inoculation Department at St. Mary's Hospital changed his path toward the then-new field of bacteriology. There, he developed his research skills under the guidance of bacteriologist and immunologist Sir Almroth Edward Wright, whose revolutionary ideas of vaccine therapy represented an entirely new direction in medical treatment. During World War I, Fleming served in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He worked as a bacteriologist, studying wound infections in a makeshift lab that had been set up by Wright in Boulogne, France. Through his research there, Fleming discovered that antiseptics commonly used at the time were doing more harm than good, as their diminishing effects on the body's immunity agents largely outweighed their ability to break down harmful bacteria—therefore, more soldiers were dying from antiseptic treatment than from the infections they were trying to destroy. Fleming recommended that, for more effective healing, wounds simply be kept dry and clean. However, his recommendations largely went unheeded. Returning to St. Mary's after the war, in 1918, Fleming took on a new position: assistant director of St. Mary's Inoculation Department. (He would become a professor of bacteriology at the University of London in 1928, and an emeritus professor of bacteriology in 1948.) In November 1921, while nursing a cold, Fleming discovered lysozyme, a mildly antiseptic enzyme present in body fluids, when a drop of mucus dripped from his nose onto a culture of bacteria. Thinking that his mucus might have some kind of effect on bacterial growth, he mixed it with the culture. A few weeks later, he observed that the bacteria had been dissolved. This marked Fleming's first great discovery, as well as a significant contribution to human immune system research. (As it turned out, however, lysozyme had no effect on the most destructive bacteria.) In September 1928, Fleming returned to his laboratory after a month away with his family, and noticed that a culture of Staphylococcus aureus he had left out had become contaminated with a mold (later identified as Penicillium notatum). He also discovered that the colonies of staphylococci surrounding this mold had been destroyed. He later said of the incident, "When I woke up just after dawn on September 28, 1928, I certainly didn't plan to revolutionize all medicine by discovering the world's first antibiotic, or bacteria killer. But I suppose that was exactly what I did." He at first called the substance "mold juice," and then named it "penicillin," after the mold that produced it. Thinking he had found an enzyme more powerful than lysozyme, Fleming decided to investigate further. What he found out, though, was that it was not an enzyme at all, but an antibiotic—one of the first antibiotics to be discovered. Further development of the substance was not a one-man operation, as his previous efforts had been, so Fleming recruited two young researchers. The three men unfortunately failed to stabilize and purify penicillin, but Fleming pointed out that penicillin had clinical potential, both in topical and injectable forms, if it could be developed properly. On the heels of Fleming's discovery, a team of scientists from the University of Oxford—led by Howard Florey and his co-worker, Ernst Chain—isolated and purified penicillin. The antibiotic eventually came into use during World War II, revolutionizing battlefield medicine and, on a much broader scale, the field of infection control. Florey, Chain and Fleming shared the 1945 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, but their relationship was tainted over who should receive the most credit for penicillin. The press tended to emphasize Fleming's role due to the compelling back-story of his chance discovery and his greater willingness to be interviewed. Fleming died of a heart attack on March 11, 1955, at his home in London, England. He was survived by his second wife, Dr. Amalia Koutsouri-Vourekas, and his only child, Robert, from his first marriage.

Personal Life

On 23 December 1915, Fleming married a trained nurse, Sarah Marion McElroy. She died in 1949 leaving Fleming with their only child, Robert Fleming who later became a general medical practitioner. On 9 April 1953 Fleming married his second wife Dr. Amalia Koutsouri-Vourekas, a Greek colleague at St. Mary's Hospital where Fleming had been attached throughout his life.


High School: Kilmarnock Academy, Kilmarnock, Scotland (1900)
University: Royal Polytechnic Institution, London, England (attended)
Medical School: MB, BS, St. Mary's Hospital Medical School, London University (1906)

Occupation and Career:

Sir Alexander Fleming was a Scottish Scientist, biologist, pharmacologist and botanist.
Scottish Territorial Army (1900-02)
Royal Army Medical Corps (WWI; to Captain)
Teacher: Medicine, St. Mary's Hospital Medical School, London University (1906-14)
Professor: Medicine, St. Mary's Hospital Medical School, London University (1918-28)
Administrator: Hunterian Professor, London University (1928-48)
Administrator: Director, Wright-Fleming Institute, Imperial College London (1948-55)
Administrator: Rector, University of Edinburgh (1951-54)

Awards /Honors:

  • His discovery of penicillin had changed the world of modern medicine by introducing the age of useful antibiotics; penicillin has saved, and is still saving, millions of people around the world.
  • The laboratory at St Mary's Hospital where Fleming discovered penicillin is home to the Fleming Museum, a popular London attraction. His alma mater, St Mary's Hospital Medical School, merged with Imperial College London in 1988. The Sir Alexander Fleming Building on the South Kensington campus was opened in 1998 and is now one of the main preclinical teaching sites of the Imperial College School of Medicine.
  • His other alma mater, the Royal Polytechnic Institution (now the University of Westminster) has named one of its student halls of residence Alexander Fleming House, which is near to Old Street.
  • Fleming, Florey and Chain jointly received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1945. According to the rules of the Nobel committee a maximum of three people may share the prize. Fleming's Nobel Prize medal was acquired by the National Museums of Scotland in 1989 and is on display after the museum re-opened in 2011.
  • Fleming was a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.
  • Fleming was awarded the Hunterian Professorship by the Royal College of Surgeons of England.
  • Fleming was knighted, as a Knight Bachelor, by king George VI in 1944.
  • In 1999, Time Magazine named Fleming one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th century.
  • When 2000 was approaching, at least three large Swedish magazines ranked penicillin as the most important discovery of the millennium.
  • In 2002, Fleming was named in the BBC's list of the 100 Greatest Britons following a nationwide vote.
  • A statue of Alexander Fleming stands outside the main bullring in Madrid, Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas. It was erected by subscription from grateful matadors, as penicillin greatly reduced the number of deaths in the bullring.
  • Flemingovo náměstí is a square named after Fleming in the university area of the Dejvice community in Prague.
  • In mid-2009, Fleming was commemorated on a new series of banknotes issued by the Clydesdale Bank; his image appears on the new issue of £5 notes.
  • 91006 Fleming, an asteroid in the Asteroid Belt, is named for Fleming.


Penicillin: It’s Practical Application (1946, non-fiction)

Death, place of death, Time of death, place of burial:

On 11 March 1955, Fleming died at his home in London because of a heart attack. He was buried at St Paul's Cathedral, London, England.

Quotes and Memoirs:

  • “It is the lone worker who makes the first advance in a subject; the details may be worked out by a team, but the prime idea is due to enterprise, thought, and perception of an individual.”
  • “One sometimes finds what one is not looking for.”
  • “The lone hand has advantages as well as the much-advertised team-work, but each in its own place.”
  • I have been trying to point out that in our lives chance may have an astonishing influence and, if I may offer advice to the young laboratory worker, it would be this - never to neglect an extraordinary appearance or happening.