After a year at McGurk, Martin begins to feel badly about not haven gotten anywhere with his research, when suddenly he comes upon a huge discovery. He discovers that the bacterial growth in his test tube is gone as a result of a broth he had used. He works day and night and discovers that whatever it is that is killing the bacteria can also prevent the bacteria from growing. He calls his discovery "The X Principle." He does not know what the nature of the X Principle is—whether it is organic or chemical (an enzyme perhaps)—but it this is precisely what he wants to find out.
When Martin is certain that "The X Principle" reproduces itself and causes the same results through endless attempts and experiments, it is then that he goes to Gottlieb. Gottlieb adds many new questions to Martin's research and humbles him by adding new angles; however, Gottlieb is happy for Martin and recognizes that he has struck something big. He then proceeds to tell Martin to make sure that he does not tell any of the directors until he has enough information and until he is sure of what he has.
Martin keeps the principle from the heads but allows a doctor at the Lower Manhattan Hospital to use it to cure boils. Gottlieb becomes upset because he has allowed incomplete results out into the world.
Martin is sleep-deprived from so much work and feels guilty, at times, for abandoning Leora. He becomes somewhat mad with work and has visions and phobias. He needs to rest.
The institute is beginning to wonder what Martin is up to, and Tubbs approaches him, telling him that Martin must tell him what he has discovered since he (Tubbs) is the director of the institute. Martin is, therefore, forced to relinquish his discoveries. Tubbs becomes immediately excited and makes plans for Martin: he decides to submit a plan to the Board of Trustees for a Microbic Pathology Department, which Martin shall head. Martin shall have his own assistant, technicians—anything he needs. Plus, Martin is to be given a raise and is to receive a salary of ten thousand dollars. Tubbs plans everything down to their "cooperative" publication, in which Holabird also wants to become involved. Tubbs consistently applies pressure on Martin to publish.
Martin begins to feel as though his work is being taken away from him and goes to Gottlieb for help, but Gottlieb is unable to help, although he tries. A dinner is given in Martin's honor at which Capitola inquires without much true interest about what he is doing in the laboratory that is making so much fuss. Soon after, however, Gottlieb informs Martin that someone has already discovered the X Principle and published the results. The French scientist D'Herelle had given it another name, however: Bacteriophage. Tubbs soon finds out and informs Martin that "the plan" was no longer—there is to be no raise and no new department.