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Laura Magnavite


Main Ideas
The relationship between war and technological advancement is in many ways a symbiotic one. The development of penicillin during World War II is a perfect case study of that relationship. The background essay and the activities that follow provide students with an opportunity to look at the war as more than a time of madmen and genocide. They will examine the ironic role of the war as a catalyst to the discovery of this "wonder drug."

Connection with the Curriculum
This material may be used primarily with American history classes, but may also be used with classes on Illinois history. The activities may be appropriate for the Illinois Learning Standards 16.A.3c; 16.A.4a; 16.D.5(US); 17.C.3b;and18.A.5.

Teaching Level
Grades 9-12

Materials for Each Student

A copy of the narrative portion of the article

Handouts 1 -3

An American history textbook

Objectives for Each Student

Identify key events in the development of penicillin and examine their relationship with the unfolding events of World War II.

Work in pairs to create wartime propaganda posters that illustrate the importance of penicillin to the Allied cause.

Personalize the experiences of wartime medical researchers and their work.


Opening the Lesson
Review with the students the technological developments that came out of World War I, such as poison gas and the machine gun. Ask students to describe how those developments affected the future of humanity. Then discuss whether they think that a war could ever give rise to beneficial technology. Why?

Developing the Lesson
For Activity 1, have the students read the narrative portion of the article and review their textbook's chapter on the events of World War II. Have them create a comparative timeline of events. The summary question may serve as the basis for a class discussion.

For Activity 2, have the class discuss the uses of penicillin and what steps were involved in its production. Then, meeting with their partners, have the students brainstorm a list of images and slogans that would be appropriate for a wartime propaganda poster dealing with penicillin production and/or use.

Students should complete Activity 3 individually.

Concluding the Lesson
Have students read an excerpt from their researcher's journal aloud to the class.

Extending the Lesson
Research the development of penicillin or other drugs in Axis Power countries.

Assessing the Lesson
Students create "products" in each activity for which the instructor should develop grading criteria. In addition, students can be assessed with a quiz or test.


Handout 1 - Time Context

On the timeline below, using the article and your textbook chapter, list key events in the development of penicillin and in the progression of World War II. After you have finished, complete the summary question.













Summary Question

What connections can you make between the development of penicillin and the development of World War II?



Handout 2 - Posters

Working in pairs, create a wartime propaganda poster encouraging or supporting the mass production of penicillin. Follow the steps listed below:

  1. List the possible uses for penicillin in the war and the steps in its production.

  2. Brainstorm with your partner a list of images and slogans you might use for your poster. For example, a room full of sick soldiers declaring, "Farmers, we need your corn to save our lives!"

  3. Create your poster.



Handout 3 - Journal

Imagine you are a medical researcher working at the Northern Regional Research Lab at Peoria during the 1940s. Write three wartime journal entries in which you discuss the following:

Your setbacks

Your successes

The significance of your work

Man writing

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