Carrel flask

Description (Brief)
From the 1920s through the 1950s biologists and medical researchers made a concerted effort to solve the problem of tissue culture—how to raise and maintain cells for scientific research. Part of the challenge was to create a home outside the body in which cells could survive.
Early methods of cell culture relied on the hanging-drop technique, in which tissue grew in a plasma clot suspended from a glass slide. The hanging-drop technique, however, posed several problems: cells in a clot were difficult to view under the microscope, cultures could not grow to a large size, and specimens were prone to contamination.
To address these issues, surgeon Alexis Carrel (1873–1944) of the Rockefeller Institute developed a new vessel for tissue culture, which came to bear his name. The Carrel flask featured an angled neck to prevent airborne particles from falling into the flask when it was open. Technicians could also sterilized the neck with a flame both before and after adding or removing nutrient broth.
The flask’s round flat base and in some cases, the use of thin, optically optimized glass facilitated the viewing of specimens under a microscope without removing them from their vessel.
This object was used in Dr. Wilton Earle’s (1902–1964) laboratory at the National Cancer Institute. Earle joined NCI in 1937 and served as head of its Tissue Culture Section from 1946 to 1964. He and his researchers were pioneers in the use of tissue culture for cancer research.
Carrel, Alexis. “Tissue Culture and Cell Physiology.” Physiological Reviews 4, no. 1 (1924): 1–20.
Landecker, Hannah. Culturing Life: How Cells Became Technologies. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007.
National Museum of American History Accession Files 1991.0071 & 1997.0139
Currently not on view
Object Name
carrel flask
date made
Physical Description
glass (overall material)
average spatial: 4.4 cm x 11.1 cm x 8.3 cm; 1 3/4 in x 4 3/8 in x 3 1/4 in
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Science & Scientific Instruments
Science & Mathematics
Health & Medicine
Science Under Glass
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Biological Sciences
Science Under Glass
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of the DeWitt Stetten, Jr. Museum of Medical Research, National Institutes of Health
Additional Media

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