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. At the National Cancer Institute, a team led by Wilton Earle (1902–1964) used tissue culture to study the process by which normal cells become cancerous. Earle, along with researchers Katherine Sanford, Virginia Evans, and Gwendolyn Likely, worked to develop proper nutrition—through a specially formulated broth—for cells grown in culture.
Cells required the broth to be changed regularly, necessitating the scientists to first remove the old broth. Researchers realized, however, that the floating cells were often removed along with the old broth. To address this problem, Earle developed a new kind of flask in which to grow the cells. The so called T-flask (named for the glass tubing from which it was blown), could be centrifuged prior to changing broth. Doing so trapped cells in the conical end, preventing them from being sucked out with the old broth.
This objects were 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.
Lyons, Michele, and Jr. Museum of Medical Research DeWitt Stetten. Seventy Acres of Science the National Institutes of Health Moves to Bethesda. Bethesda: Office of NIH History, National Institutes of Health, 2006. http://history.nih.gov/research/downloads/70acresofscience2.pdf.
National Museum of American History Accession Files 1991.0071 & 1997.0139
Stetten, DeWitt, and W. T. Carrigan. NIH : An Account of Research in Its Laboratories and Clinics. Orlando: Academic Press, 1984. http://archive.org/details/nihaccountofrese00stet.
Currently not on view
Object Name
display of t-flasks
date made
Physical Description
rubber (overall material)
glass (overall material)
overall: 18.4 cm x 7 cm x 3 cm; 7 1/4 in x 2 3/4 in x 1 3/16 in
ID Number
accession number
catalog 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
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute
Additional Media

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