pinflix yespornplease

A Community of Rambunctious Scholars Celebrating People
Who Have Made Lifesaving Discoveries And Encouraging
Students and Politicians to Read 1000 Science Stories!

Howard Florey
Creator of Penicillin

Florey Humor

“The tools for carving consist of some scalpels which might cut tobacco, some needles and a pair of artery forceps. I ordered a few extra but feel inadequate for anything big, e.g. disarticulation of head from neck.”
- Howard Florey, on taking a job as a ship’s doctor

When his girlfriend became sick, Florey prescribed rest, “As I do for all my patients; it’s the only treatment I’m sure about.”

“I’m now ‘Doctor’ to the patients and I have to cover my ignorance by waving my arms and looking grave.”
- Howard Florey, on graduating from medical school

A Fresh Faced Australian in England

“The Englishmen are a queer lot. The chap on the same landing as myself went to Winchester… and has spoken, but the majority preserve a frigid silence. I am assured that it is their manner and when you thaw it they are very decent. I’m also told it takes patience. They all seem to take themselves so seriously that I want to laugh.”
- Howard Florey, winner of  a Rhodes Scholarship, in a letter to Ethyl after arriving at Oxford

“I’ve had a cat with a glass window in its head running around the lab, which amused me greatly,”
- Florey to his girlfriend, Ethel

“Sherry has seen fit to let me work under him…. This is God’s own opportunity. He’s the President of the Royal Society and probably is recognized as the greatest living physiologist.”
- Howard Florey, upon being a student of Professor Charles Sherrington, in a letter to Ethel

“One can get away with any sort of gaucherie as just one of these rough colonials. It’s a very good line to play.”
- Howard Florey, on using his Australian roots

Others’ Impressions of Florey

“Florey’s most striking characteristics were his energy and enthusiasm for research and his complete scientific honesty. He was a prodigious worker, full of ideas for the practical solution to some immediate problem, impatient of delay, and with an infectious vitality that was to attract a succession of collaborators who often found themselves doing the best work of their lives under his influence.”
- Gwyn Macfarlane, who knew Florey personally and would later write a biography of him

 “As a researcher he had more ideas, and better ones, than anyone else I have met. Almost all the work we did together, and some that I published alone, stemmed from ideas from Florey. With this went a capacity for hard work – one project involved us spending the nights as well as the days in the University. We did alternate nights for several weeks.”
- D.E. Harding, a senior doctor at Sheffield University

“Florey was in many ways the antithesis of Chain. He listened carefully to the views of the least experienced of his research staff, such as myself, and one could have a thoughtful and productive two-way talk with him. On occasion this could be intensely stimulating. One quickly learned that his advice was perceptive and often unexpectedly valuable, being presented in some modest form such as ‘You might consider…,’ or ‘I doubt if you are right there, but why not try…’”
- Norman Heatley, co-creator of penicillin with Florey and Chain

A Timeline of the Discovery of the Drug: Penicillin

The worst part of being a doctor was “the appalling thing of seeing young people maimed or wiped out while one can do nothing.”
- Howard Florey, after becoming a doctor

“Every hospital had a septic ward, filled with patients with chronic discharging abscesses, sinuses, septic joints, and sometimes meningitis…chambers of horrors, seems the best way to describe those old septic wards.” Carbuncles oozing pus - abscesses on the body the size of a cup - were not uncommon. There was little treatment. About half the people who entered the wards exited on gurneys to the morgue.
- Charles Fletcher, a doctor associate of Howard Fleming, speaking of life before penicillin

“I have never forgotten the remark made by Szent Györgyi, a Nobel Prize winner, in 1929, when I had the good fortune to work with him in Cambridge. He said that biochemical methods were then sufficiently good to enable any naturally occurring substance to be extracted, provided there was a quick test for it.”
- Howard Florey, on the importance of chemistry to the research

“There is no question, we will have to go for penicillin. My worry is that… I’ve got my team together.  If the money doesn’t come along, I might not be able to hold them together and it would all be finished.”
- Howard Florey to his friend R. Douglas Wright, an Australian physiologist whom he had brought to Oxford on a fellowship

“The financial difficulties of trying to keep work going here are more than I am prepared to go on shouldering as it seems to me that I have acquired a reputation of being some sort of academic highway robber because I have to make such frequent applications for grants from all sorts of places…. You may gather that I am fed up.”
- Howard Florey, about trying to raise money for research

“Hitherto the work on penicillin has been carried out with very crude preparations and no attempt has been made to purify it. In our opinion the purification of penicillin can be carried out easily and rapidly. In view of the possible great importance of the above mentioned bactericidal agents it is proposed to prepare these substances in a purified form suitable for intravenous injections and to study their antiseptic action in vivo.”
- Howard Florey, seeking funding from the Rockefeller Foundation

“It looks like a miracle.”
- Howard Florey, ever known for his understated manner, called Margaret Jennings to report the first tests on infected mice with penicillin

“It is difficult to convey the excitement of actually witnessing the amazing power of penicillin over infections for which there had previously been no effective treatment.” In Florey and Chain he saw, “the intense joy of the scientist seeing that years of work had resulted in an opportunity to save lives.” Later, when he asked Florey how it felt, Florey said, “This is the sort of thing that only happens to you once in a life.”
- Dr. Charles Fletcher, who helped test penicillin on humans

 “It was unemotional, but still very telling, and in a startling sort of way it revealed the wide grasp of his scientific mind. Even though I knew the subject well, he showed me new facts, and I realized suddenly how great a man he was…. I count that hour in Gregg’s office as one of the great experiences of my life.”
- Norman Heatley, co-creator of penicillin, on hearing Florey explain to the Americans the penicillin research

When trying to convince American pharmaceutical companies to produce penicillin, Florey was left feeling like:
 “A carpet bag salesman trying to promote a crazy idea for some ulterior motive.”

“The penicillin work is moving along and we now have a fairly substantial plant for making it here. It is most tantalizing really, as there is, for me, no doubt that we have a most potent weapon against all common sepsis. My wife is doing the clinical work and is getting astonishing results – almost miraculous some of them… I am afraid the synthesis of the substance is rather distant, but if say, the price of two bombers and some energy was sunk into the project we could really get enough to do a considerable amount.”
- Howard Florey, writing to his former professor, Charles Sherrington, about the penicillin research.

 “We could hardly believe our eyes on seeing that bacteria could be killed off without at the same time killing the patient. It was not just amazement, it was a revolution." 
- Lewis Thomas, one time Dean of Yale Medical School, describing the impact of penicillin on his generation of doctors

“It is utterly wrong to write about this drug as ‘magic.’ It is not a cure-all, and it is cruel to raise hope among the dying and their relatives that such a substance exists and then to tell them that they cannot have it supplied.”
- Howard Florey, worrying that there wasn’t enough penicillin when it first came out