Famous Former Pupils

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  Sir Alexander Fleming

  Lord Boyd Orr







































Sir Alexander Fleming (1881-1955)

Scientist and Nobel Laureate

    
                  Sir Alexander Fleming
             photographed at Prize-Giving
         (alongside a young Frank Donnelly).

 
 
Sir Alexander Fleming is the former pupil who has had the greatest impact on all of our lives with his discovery of penicillin. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1945, with Florey and Chain.                       

Alexander Fleming enrolled in Kilmarnock Academy on 28 August 1894. The son of a farmer, he was born at Lochfield, a farm near Darvel to the east of Kilmarnock. At the time Kilmarnock Academy was the Higher Class school for most of north and east Ayrshire and so it was there he was sent to complete his education. The entry in McDougall's New Admission Register arranged to meet regulations of Scotch Education Department, Dated 26th March 1887, still held in Kilmarnock Academy, records:

SUCCESSIVE NUMBER (ON ADMISSION OR RE-ADMISSION) 2203

DATE OF ADMISSION OR RE-ADMISSION (YEAR/MONTH/DAY) 94/8/28

NAME IN FULL: CHRISTIAN AND SURNAME Alex. Fleming

EXACT DATE OF BIRTH (YEAR/MONTH/DAY) 81/8/6

THE NAME AND ADDRESS OF PARENT OR GUARDIAN Hugh Fleming, Lochfield Darvel

THE LAST SCHOOL ATTENDED BEFORE ENTERING THIS SCHOOL Darvel School

Unfortunately, no records are extant of school leavers for this period and it is not known how long Fleming was a pupil in the school. His most recent biographer, Gwyn Macfarlane states that he was a pupil for eighteen months, leaving in the summer of 1895. If the Macfarlane is right in the length Fleming was a pupil at the Academy, then this must mean he left in the summer of 1896. However if Macfarlane is right in dating of Fleming's leaving school, then it would appear he was a pupil for only one session. Macfarlane describes Fleming as being 'ahead of his contemporaries by at least a year, and clearly had a quick intelligence, an excellent memory and the urge to learn.' However, Macfarlane notes, 'he did not exert himself unduly, being fortunate enough to absorb what his new school had to offer with a little apparent effort' (Gwen Macfarlane, Alexander Fleming: the Man and the Myth).

The discovery which was to make Alexander Fleming famous was made by chance and its immense significance was not immediately apparent. In the summer of 1928 Alexander Fleming, by then a bacteriologist at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington, went away on holiday. As was his habit - he was very untidy - he left a clutter of plates growing various bacteria lying about his desk. While he was relaxing on holiday, something very strange was happening back at the laboratory. Some fungus spores floated onto one of the plates, probably wafting in the door which was always open. The weather as perfect for them to grow. Soon the mould covered part of the plate in which Fleming meant to grow bacteria.

On 3 September, when he returned from holiday, Fleming began to tidy up, putting the the plates he did not want into a tray containing cleaning fluid. He put the mouldy one among them. It was obviously no good. Just then an assistant came in to see him. Fleming began to show him what he was doing, and he picked up one of the plates from the pile that had not yet been submerged in the liquid. It was the mouldy one. "That's funny," he suddenly said, and looked more closely.

What Fleming had noticed was that no bacteria had grown where the fungal mould was. While he was relaxing, some fungus spores floated onto a culture plate for bacteria lying on his desk and a mould rapidly grew. When Fleming returned, he almost discarded the mouldy one, but he noticed that no bacteria had grown where the fungal mould was. The rare form of penicilium notatum which had invaded his culture plate killed bacteria. Fleming had made what has been described as the single most important practical advance in the history of medicine. He had discovered the world's first dependable antibiotic.

It was eleven years later before the full implications of the discovery were realised by Howard Florey and Sir Ernst Chain who developed a means of producing the drug. Fleming was appointed Professor of Bacteriology at the University of London in 1938 and shared the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1945 with Florey and Chain.