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Replica apparatus for the continuous extraction and purification of penicillin

Made by Norman Heatley (1911-2004) himself, a member of the team at Oxford who were working on penicillin in the early 1940s, this is a replica of the apparatus he built for the continuous extraction and purification of the drug. It was specially made for the Science Museum. The original device, made in 1940, passed increasingly pure penicillin between solution in acidified water and an organic solvent. Heatley was part of the team that managed to produce enough of the antibiotic for the first clinical trials in 1941. It was difficult to reproduce enough of the Penicillium mould, and difficult again to gain samples with few impurities. Heatley’s inventiveness shown both in this device and in his design of a dish to grow the mould at an experimental scale was of great importance to the development of penicillin.

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    Glossary: penicillin

    The first antibiotic drug to treat infections which is made from the mould penicillium. Its discovery is attributed to Alexander Fleming in 1928.

    Glossary: antibiotic

    A substance that is used to treat infections.

    Glossary: laboratory apparatus

    A term used to refer to any equipment commonly used in a scientific laboratory. Includes flasks, beakers, test tubes and measuring cylinders.