The Structure of Penicillin

Contributed by Museum of the History of Science

Model of Structure of Penicillin, by Dorothy Hodgkin et al., Oxford, 1940s. Copyright Museum of the History of Science

The medicinal potential of penicillin was accidentally discovered by the Scottish scientist Alexander Flemming in 1928The chemical structure of penicillin was worked out using X-ray crystallography by the Oxford research scientist Dorothy Hodgkin who took up the problem in 1942. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1964 in recognition of her discovery.

The model gives a three dimensional map of part of one of the crystal salts of penicillin. The contours are lines of electron density and show the positions of individual atoms in the structure. The diagram shows two schematic views of the structure.

Penicillin antibiotics are historically significant because they are the first drugs that were effective against many previously serious diseases such as syphilis and other bacterial infections. Penicillins are still widely used today, though many types of bacteria are now resistant.

Comments are closed for this object

Most of the content on A History of the World is created by the contributors, who are the museums and members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the BBC or the British Museum. The BBC is not responsible for the content of any external sites referenced. In the event that you consider anything on this page to be in breach of the site’s House Rules please Flag This Object.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.