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Penicillin and the importance of observation

Imagine waking up one morning and heading over to the lab to check on some of your bacteria cultures. As you look through the Petri dishes where your bacteria have been growing, you become frustrated by your untidiness that seems to never stop resulting in contamination of your cultures.

You take a deep breath and look again, this time noticing that a mold that has contaminated your culture of staphylococci has not only occupied a portion of the Petri dish but has also caused a halo of space around itself, deficient of bacteria. This discovery intrigues you and may be perhaps the most important finding you have ever made!

If you can imagine all of this, then you can imagine how Alexander Fleming felt the moment he
serendipitously encountered what would change the future of medicine and encourage the development of a litany of antibiotics. Of course, this is the story of the discovery of penicillin.

It is important to remember this story not only because of the vast implications penicillin had
on the treatment of debilitating diseases such as syphilis, but also to appreciate one of the fundamental aspects of the scientific method -- observation.

It can be argued that Dr. Fleming's discovery, which led him to earn a Nobel Prize, was sheer luck. However, one cannot simply dismiss that while he was fortunate to have witnessed the phenomenon as described above, it took a keen eye, scientific curiosity and perhaps most importantly, vision to translate observation into meaningful results.