Alexander Fleming


August 19, 2022

Sir Alexander Fleming (Darvel, 6 August 1881 - London, 11 March 1955) was a Scottish physician, biologist and pharmacologist, universally known for having discovered the enzyme lysozyme in 1922 and penicillin in 1928, a result that earned him the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1945. He is also the author of numerous scientific articles on bacteriology, immunology and chemotherapy.


Childhood and adolescence

Alexander Fleming was born on August 6, 1881 in Darvel, Scotland. At the age of five, she began attending a country school, located near his farm. From the age of 8 to 10 he attended the school of Darvel, a nearby city, and then at the age of twelve, the academy of Kilmarnock, an important city in the county of Ayr. At the age of fourteen he moves to London, where some brothers are waiting for him, and together with Robert he follows courses in polytechnic.

From the Transvaal war to medical studies

In the year 1900, the Transvaal War broke out in today's South Africa. Alexander and his brothers John and Robert volunteered for the London Scottish, a regiment made up exclusively of Scots. But the number of soldiers exceeded the demands, and the Flemings did not leave for the war. In this military environment Alexander demonstrates his skill in sport: he is a skilled swimmer, an excellent water polo player and an excellent shooter, skills that allow him to enter the Inoculation Department, where he works for most of his life. Alexander is 20 years old when his uncle John dies, from which he receives an inheritance of 250 pounds that he decides to spend to study medicine. To enter he needs a special diploma for those who have not attended secondary school. He studies and passes the exam brilliantly, so much so that he is the best in the whole of the United Kingdom (July 1901). He chooses to attend the school of Saint Mary's Hospital, a young hospital in the Paddington district, which he enters in October 1901. He is a brilliant student, first in most subjects, very prepared although not gifted with a vast culture, limitation which he compensates with the broad reasoning ability and the marked intelligence of the naturalist. At first a career as a surgeon loomed for him, having passed the relevant exam and acquired the title of Fellow Royal College of Surgeons. But soon an irrelevant fact, his shooting prowess, deflects his way.

Fleming, Wright and the "Department of Inoculation"

It was 1902 when Sir Almroth Wright, a famous bacteriologist, created the "Department of inoculation" at Saint Mary Hospital. Fleming enters it in 1906, by chance: one of Wright's disciples, Dr. John Freeman, wants to resurrect the hospital's shooting club, and Alexander is suggested to him. Approaching the Scotsman, he convinces him to change his course of study: from surgery to the inoculation department, even trying to share with him the admiration for Wright. The department is a small facility, where Wright's chosen young doctors (called "the Old Man") work as both clinicians and researchers. Here the sick are subjected to inoculation, or what is now called vaccination, at that time considered the only real weapon against disease. But Wright's group wants to do more: they want to move from preventive vaccination to therapeutic vaccination. At the department, Little Fleming proved to be an excellent element: expert and ingenious, the few laboratory instruments at his disposal bent to his will, so as to become particular and complicated objects; in the elegant and clear style of writing, he even managed to be praised by his boss. And with Wright the Scotsman will have a particular and profound relationship, born from their character contrast but also from mutual esteem. In those years Fleming began to attend the Chelsea Arts Club, and will continue to do so for the