Norman George Heatley was born 10 January 1911 at Woodbridge, Suffolk. He attended preparatory schools in St. Felix and Folkestone, 1918-1923 and public school in Tonbridge, 1923-1929.
From 1929 Heatley read Natural Sciences at St John's College, Cambridge University, graduating in 1933. Between 1933 and 1936 he worked under Joseph Needham at the School of Biochemistry (Sir William Dunn Biochemical Institute) University of Cambridge, on microchemical methods applied to biological problems. He took the MA degree in 1935 and obtained his PhD in 1937.
In September 1936 Heatley came at the invitation of Howard W. Florey to the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology, University of Oxford, initially to work with E. B. Chain on tumour metabolism. Between 1936 and 1939 he also developed a new type of microrespirometer. He was funded by the Medical Research Council and the Philip Walker Studentship.
From October 1939, Heatley worked directly with Florey (and Chain) on the early research, extraction and development of penicillin. This close collaboration continued up to June 1941 when Heatley accompanied Florey to the USA to seek help from firms to mass produce penicillin. He remained there until June 1942, spending time working in the Fermentation Division of the Northern Regional Research Laboratory of the US Department of Agriculture, Peoria, Illinois, and from mid-December 1941 at the research laboratories of Merck & Co. Inc., Rahway, New Jersey. The first six months of his time in the USA were supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, who had offered him a Fellowship to work in Copenhagen with Professor Linderstrom-Lang but which was prevented by the outbreak of war in September 1939 (see B/2/2).
After Heatley's return to Oxford in 1942 he resumed work at the Dunn School of Pathology as an employee of the University of Oxford, first as a Senior Research Officer, then as a University Lecturer. In 1948 he was awarded one of three newly endowed Nuffield (Penicillin) Research Fellowships at Lincoln College, being elected to an honorary fellowship in 1982.
In the 1960s Heatley was seconded to work in the USA on three projects. From September 1962 to March 1963 he worked with Dr S Lepkowsky in the Department of Poultry Husbandry, University of California, on secretin and pancreozymin. Further work in this area was undertaken in 1968 at Baltimore City Hospitals where he collaborated with Dr J Love in the Department of Surgical Research. In addition, in 1963 he worked with Dr Ernest Bueding, in the Department of Pathobiology, School of Hygiene and Public Health, Baltimore, on the respiration of schistosome heads, using the microrespirometer designed at Oxford just before the war.
Throughout his career Heatley published over 65 articles in scientific journals, many as co-author, dealing with his biochemical research, techniques and methods, including work on penicillin and antibiotics (see Section D for writings by Heatley). Heatley also contributed to Antibiotics: A survey of penicillin, streptomycin, and other antimicrobial substances from fungi, actinomycetes, bacteria and plants by Howard Florey et.al. (Oxford University Press 1949).
He was awarded the OBE in 1978 for his contributions to scientific research. In 1982 he was made an Honorary Fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford, became Honorary DM (Oxon.) in 1990 and Honorary Fellow of St. John's College, Cambridge in 1992.
Heatley retired from university and college positions in 1978, however, until his death in 2004 he participated in and contributed to numerous works and productions on the history of penicillin and antibiotics, often providing invaluable assistance, insights and factual commentary to researchers. Despite playing a key role in the development of penicillin, the importance and worth of Heatley's work during the Second World War went comparatively unrecognised until the 1990s. It is widely thought that Heatley ought to have been the fourth scientist to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1945, along with Alexander Fleming, Ernst B. Chain and Howard W. Florey.
Heatley married Mercy Bing in 1944. They had two sons and two daughters. Norman Heatley died 6 Jan 2004.
For additional biographical information see online obituaries of Heatley and material in Section C.