Health and Medicine

Our Health & Medicine collection spans several centuries and features objects related to surgery, public health, popular remedies, quackery, scientific innovation and advancement

Powerhouse Museum

Specimen (1944) by Howard W. FloreyPowerhouse Museum

Preserved specimens of 'Penicillium notatum' (penicillin mould), from the laboratories of Howard W. Florey, Oxford, England, 1944

These two specimens of penicillin were preserved in the 1940s by Professor Howard Florey,  the Australian scientist who led the international project that extracted and stabilised penicillin and proved its efficacy in fighting infection; a scientific advancement which has gone on to save countless lives. The search for new ways to fight increasingly resistant bacteria continues today. 

Ultrasound device (2009) by Signostics Pty LtdPowerhouse Museum

Ultrasound device,'Signos Personal Ultrasound'by Design+Industry and Signostics Pty Ltd, 2011

This unit can be worn around the neck like a stethoscope, completely negating large ultrasound diagnostics.

Domestic medicine chest (1830) by Keating & CoPowerhouse Museum

Medicine chest, Keating & Co, England, 1830-1845

While we now associate seating, vomiting and diarrhoea with symptoms of illness, many of the  medicines in this mid 19th century chest induced these actions as a means to cure illnesses. Home remedies were very popular in the 1800s, and there was many text books written by doctors on the subject. 

With the advent of the advent of antibiotics, antiseptic, and preventative health measures, chests like these are considered obsolete, although many of our contemporary medicines contain some elements used in 19th century medicine chests.

Phrenology bust (1850) by L N FowlerPowerhouse Museum

Phrenology bust (1850)

A completely defunct practice, phrenology was the theory that the contours of the skull can indicate personality traits and dictate behavior. This bust maps out certain of these contours.

Hypodermic syringe (1920) by FaroPowerhouse Museum

Hypodermic syringe in metal case with selection of needles, Australia, 1920-1940

The syringe has been in use in medical practice since the 1st century. However, the invention of the hypodermic needle - a hollow needle - by Irishman  Francis Rynd allowed the application of medicines subcutaneously and intravenously, greatly enhancing the effectiveness of drugs. This example is from the 1920s, when hypodermics were reused many times. In 1949 Australian inventor Charles Rothauser created the world's first plastic, disposable hypodermic syringe, which has become the international standard type used. The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences has examples of these also in the collection. 

Artificial arm (1920) by UnknownPowerhouse Museum

Prosthetic arm with attachments, 1920-1940

Artificial limbs were first made in the 1700s but, over the next century and a half, escalating injuries in factories and on battlefields meant that a small limb-manufacturing industry expanded. World War One saw many more survivors of horrific injuries, but much of that increased survival was due to amputation. Men returned from the war required prosthetics, and both the design of limbs, and the amputation surgery evolved to make life with a prosthetic as comfortable as possible. This example features  connections at the wrist for cutlery, aesthetics, and manipulation.  Contemporary prosthetics feature highly advanced technology; though the majority of amputees do not get access to the technology, as they are primarily older people on fixed incomes. 

Anatomical model of a human heart (1850) by UnknownPowerhouse Museum

Anatomical model, human heart and lungs, papier-mache

Access to cadavers for medical students was not always available. In the 1800s, universities commissioned model makers to make detailed replicas of human organs. These are beautiful examples of teaching models.

Influenza treatment drug (2004) by GlaxoSmithKline Pty LtdPowerhouse Museum

Influenza treatment drug, 'Relenza Zanamivir', made by GlaxoSmithKline Pty Ltd, Australia, 2004

Antibiotics cannot treat the influenza virus. Often when people say they have the 'flu', what they actually have is an upper respiratory bacterial infection. Influenza, a viral infection, is much more serious. Zanamivir, an Australian innovation in medicine, was the first of a new class of drugs called neuraminidase inhibitors. These drugs are a first line of defence against all strains of influenza virus. Once a new virus emerges it takes about six months to develop a vaccine, so neuraminidase inhibitors can slow the spread of infection and reduce morbidity and mortality in the early stages of an epidemic. 

Credits: Story

Curated by Damian McDonald

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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