Sir Alexander Fleming

Questions and Answers


Question: When was Sir Alexander Fleming born?

Answer: Fleming was born on 6 August 1881 at Lochfield Farm near Darvel, Scotland.


Question: When did he die?

Answer: Fleming died of a heart attack on 11 March 1955 in London, United Kingdom. He was cremated and his ashes were interred at St Paul’s Cathedral.


Question: Who were his parents?

Answer: His parents were Hugh Fleming and Grace Morton, both farmers.


Question: Did he have any sisters and brothers?

Answer: Fleming had three siblings (Grace, John and Robert) and four half-siblings who were the surviving children from his father Hugh’s first marriage (Jane, Hugh, Thomas and Mary).


Question: Did he marry and have children?

Answer: He was married to Sarah McElroy, a nurse from Ireland, from 1915 until she died in 1949. Their only child Robert was born in 1924. In 1953 Fleming married Dr Amalia Voureka, a Greek colleague.


Question: Where did he receive his education?

Answer: Fleming went to Loudoun Moor School and Darvel School, and then to Kilmarnock Academy. He moved to London in 1895 at the age of 13 years, and completed his compulsory schooling at Regent Street Polytechnic, London, in 1897. In 1901 he became a student at St Mary’s Hospital Medical School, from where he graduated in 1906.


Question: What did he do for a living?

Answer: After finishing school at the age of 16, Fleming spent 4 years working at a shipping office before going to St Mary’s Hospital Medical School in 1901 to study medicine. On graduating in 1906, he joined the research department at St Mary’s as an assistant bacteriologist to Sir Almroth Wright, a pioneer in vaccine therapy. He remained at St Mary’s for the next 49 years, becoming a lecturer and then a Professor of Bacteriology, and also opened his own practice to treat patients with syphilis.

Question: When was he knighted?

Answer: He was knighted in 1944 by King George VI of the United Kingdom and could from then on address himself as Sir Alexander Fleming.


Question: Is the story true that goes around attributing his good fortune to that of a wealthy man whose son he saved.

Answer: The story is false.


Question: What impact had the discovery of penicillin to the world?

Answer: Penicillin has saved millions of lives by stopping the growth of the bacteria that are responsible for poisoning the blood and causing many other once fatal diseases.


Question: How did he discover penicillin?

Answer: Fleming, being a bacteriologist, was searching for cures to treat bacterial infections. One day in 1928 he discovered that bacteria he had been growing on a culture plate had been killed in an area close to where a mould was accidentally growing. He isolated the mould and showed that it released a substance that inhibited bacterial growth. He named the substance penicillin after the name of the mould. Fleming reported his ground-breaking results in the scientific paper “On the antibacterial action of cultures of a Penicillium with special reference to their use in the isolation of B. influenzae” published in British Journal of Experimental Pathology 10, 226-236 (1929).


Question: How did he come up with the name penicillin?

Answer: Fleming identified the mould that had contaminated his culture plates as being from the Penicillium genus, and therefore named the substance it released penicillin.

First published 26 September 2008

To cite this section
MLA style: Sir Alexander Fleming – Questions and answers. Nobel Prize Outreach AB 2023. Mon. 11 Dec 2023. <>

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