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Installation celebrating Penicillin anniversary wins 2016 Dunn School Art Prize

The winner of the 2016 Dunn School Art prize is Virginia Russolo for her installation “Penicillin” in celebration of the 75th anniversary of the first human trials of the antibiotic drug.

The prize is ran in collaboration with The Ruskin School of Art, the University of Oxford’s art department where Virginia is a student.

The awards committee prasied the ability of the work to communicate the history of the Dunn School and its role in the development of penicillin, populary considered as the greatest medical breakthrough of the 20th Century.

Norman Heatley was a key member of the Dunn School team whose research revolutionsied the development of penicillin from interesting microbiological observation to life-saving miracle drug. Virgina’s commission is based on the culture vessel designed by Heatley in 1940 to grow the Penicillium notatum mould from which penicillin was extracted, in the necessary quantities for clinical trials. Heatley wanted a transparent vessel so researchers could see what was going on inside but due to wartime shortages it had to be ceramic instead. One thousand square bedpans were used to manufacture penicillin and in 1941 the first patient, Albert Alexander, a policeman from Abingdon was administered the drug at the Radcliffe Infirmary.

Virgina explains: The original vessel was chosen to be replicated in tribute to the ingenuity of Dr Heatley in creating a more efficient environment for the growth of the penicillin fungus. Just as the fungus develops in isolation before being subsumed into a wider progress, so it is with the unique discoveries of scientific practitioners, at first isolated then giving momentum to shared development.”

To read more about the history of penicillin see: