Today’s Google Doodle Honors the Petri Dish

By Rebecca Kreston | May 31, 2013 1:05 pm

It is the 161th birthday of the German microbiologist Julius Richard Petri, whom we can thank for those low-tech but indispensable tools of the microbiology lab: the petri dish. Google honors Petri‘s birthday today with their lovely Google Doodle riffing on his invaluable discovery.

The Google Doodle for May 31, 2013 in honor of Julius Richard Petri. Image: Google.

Petri created these now ubiquitous shallow containers while working as an assistant to Robert Koch, the man widely referred to as the father of microbiology. (Koch’s postulates of germ theory detail the essential methodology needed to identify the causative agent of a disease.) Petri‘s dishes would be supplied with the gelatinous agar that served as a culture medium – providing anything from amino acids, salts, carbohydrates and blood – to encourage bacterial growth. The lidded dishes created a contained environment, a miniature cordon sanitaire, in which to culture isolated bacteria and prevent contamination from airborne organisms and molds. His simple discovery paved the way for more sophisticated advancements and vital discoveries in microbiology. 

In the Doodle, a gloved hand swabs each petri dish and slowly bacteria and molds materialize within. The growth in the six dishes just discernibly spells out G-O-O-G-L-E and rolling your mouse over each will identify the provenance of those captured organisms: 

G is a fetid sock. O, a doorknob followed by a computer keyboard swab as the second O. G is a swab from a dog (but which part?). L,  a flower. And E, the grossest of them all, is a kitchen sponge.

Google Doodles are the search engine’s online tip of the hat to the world outside our computer, acknowledging holidays and important anniversaries as well as pioneering scientists, artists and innovators in various disciplines. My favorites include the gorgeous animated tribute to the dancer Martha Graham, and the doodles for the mathematician Ada Lovelace and the naturalist Minakata Kumagusu who studied fungi and slime molds. To see all of the Google Doodles designed in the past 15 years, now clocking in at more than 1000, check out their page here.


Care to know more about laboratory techniques of old? Check out my article on a rather ignominious piece of science history, Suck It: The Ins and Outs of Mouth Pipetting.

I wrote about Nobel prizes awarded to great discoveries in microbiology in my post Nobel Prizes, Tropical Medicine & One Nazi Sympathizer. Robert Koch is included in this illustrious list for his work in identifying the bacterial organism responsible for tuberculosis, once thought to be an inheritable disease.

Alexander Fleming’s fluke discovery of penicillin relied on using petri dishes.


Body Horrors

Body Horrors looks at the history, anthropology and geography of infectious diseases and parasites.

About Rebecca Kreston

Rebecca Kreston is an infectious disease scholar trained in microbiology and epidemiology. She obtained her Biology degree from Reed College and her Masters of Science in Tropical Medicine from Tulane University. She's lived in tropical jungles, beaches and deserts around the world and has been exposed to several of the diseases that she studies. She currently lives in New Orleans, is a fourth year medical student and regularly battles insects of the Diptera, Siphonaptera and Hymenoptera orders.

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