Painting With Penicillin: Alexander Fleming’s Germ Art
It’s not often that someone’s dirty work habits lead to a Nobel Prize. But like every lazy first-year microbiology student has to learn the hard way, when you leave nice, microbially-delicious media-filled petri dishes out over a long weekend, fungi can take over. Like weeks-old fruit, molds are just floating in the air waiting to chow down.
Usually that would be a reminder to clean up after myself… I mean, if I was messy… which I’m not, no siree not me! Instead Fleming ended up saving millions of lives thanks to being more Pigpen than Charlie Brown. The fungus on his dishes was killing the bacteria, and it led to the discovery of penicillin, the first human antibiotic.
When Fleming wasn’t busy making a prize-winning mess, he liked to paint with microbes. By picking microbes that deposited different colors, and timing their growth rates so that the picture would form all at once, he could “paint” with cultures and watch the art grow in.
Check out more of his microbial art at Smithsonian Magazine.
Oh my god, Alexander Fleming was such a fucking weirdo and I love it.