Lord Joseph Lister

Founder of antiseptic medicine and aseptic surgery, Regius Professor of Clinical Surgery.

Lister plaque
Photograph from the National Galleries of Scotland


Lister came to Edinburgh in 1853 after graduating in medicine in London.

He worked closely with James Syme, the celebrated Professor of Surgery in Edinburgh, becoming his assistant and marrying his daughter.


In 1860 he was appointed to the Chair of Surgery in Glasgow, and it was there that he first applied Louis Pasteur’s recent discoveries about the role of airborne bacteria in fermentation to the prevention of infection in surgery.

In 1866 he introduced carbolic acid as an antiseptic, to kill airborne bacteria and prevent their transmission into wounds from the air of the operating theatre.

In 1869 he returned to Edinburgh as successor to Syme as Professor of Surgery, and continued to develop improved methods of antisepsis and asepsis, with greatly reduced infection rates.

The advent of safe surgery widened the scope of planned surgery enormously and Lord Lister achieved international recognition for his research.

The plaque

The plaque is located at Teviot Place, on the east wall of the main entrance of the Medical School Building.


In honour of Lord Lister


Founder of antiseptic and aseptic surgery, Regius Professor of Clinical Surgery (1869-1877)

Related links

Lister's entry in the Gazetteer for Scotland