Carrel flask

Carrel flask

Usage conditions apply
Description (Brief)
Min Chueh Chang (1908–1991) used this Carrel flask in his laboratory at the Worchester Foundation for Experimental Biology. While Chang is perhaps best remembered for his role in the development of oral contraceptives in the early 1950s, he spent most of his career studying mammalian fertilization. His groundbreaking research with rabbits, hamsters, and other small mammals laid the foundation for the 1978 birth of the first human child conceived through in vitro fertilization.
In a 1959 paper detailing the procedure for rabbit in vitro fertilization, Chang described using Carrel flasks of 1.5 mL volume as the primary vessels for fertilization. Rabbit eggs and sperm united in the flask, placed on a gently rocking platform, and incubated for several hours. Eggs were then removed and transferred to a larger 8 mL Carrel flask and again incubated. These eggs were later removed and examined under a microscope to identify those which had been successfully fertilized, and had begun division and could therefore be implanted into recipient rabbit mothers.
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.
Carrel, Alexis. “Tissue Culture and Cell Physiology.” Physiological Reviews 4, no. 1 (1924): 1–20.
Chang, M. C. “Fertilization of Rabbit Ova in Vitro.” Nature 184, no. 4684 (1959): 466–67. doi:10.1038/184466a0.
Greep, Roy O. Min Chueh Chang 1908–1991. Washington D.C.: National Academies Press, 1995.
Landecker, Hannah. Culturing Life: How Cells Became Technologies. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007.
National Museum of American History Accession File #1992.0555
Currently not on view
Object Name
Carrel flask
date made
Physical Description
glass (overall material)
overall: 3.1 cm x 1.9 cm; 1 7/32 in x 3/4 in
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology, Inc.
Science & Scientific Instruments
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Biological Sciences
Science & Mathematics
Health & Medicine
Science Under Glass
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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