Louis Pasteur was a chemist and a microbiologist who developed a process of pasteurization that we use today in many of our foods.
He is also known for creating a vaccine for rabies and anthrax. The work that he did in germ theory changed the world as we know it, saving many lives in the process.
- Louis Pasteur was born in Dole, France, in 1822. His father was a tanner by trade and decorated for his service in the Napoleonic Wars. Pasteur seemed more talented in painting and drawing when he was growing up and didn’t show any real talent in regular school. His college life included two degrees, a bachelor of science and a bachelor of arts at the Royal College of Besançon, and then a doctorate from the École Normale in Paris.
- After graduating, Pasteur devoted his younger years to teaching and researching. He took the job at the University of Strasbourg as a professor of chemistry. He met and married Marie Laurent, and while they had five children, only two of them survived.
- Pasteur was trying to figure out a problem in 1849 about tartaric acid. This is a chemical that is found in wine that is fermented. At the time, scientists used rotating polarized light to try to study crystals. However, when they passed the light through dissolved tartaric acid, the angle of the plane of light changed in rotation. He had found a second chemical in wine sediments that most scientists assumed were identical, but the angle of the plane of light didn’t rotate in that one. His deduction of this observation was that although the two may have had the same chemical compounds, their structures were different. This was the beginning of his research into chemical structures and how they behave and is the foundation of the stereochemistry field.
- Pasteur was given the position of the professor of chemistry at the University of Lille and then the dean of the science faculty. He devoted his time to studying the manufacturing of alcoholic drinks and some of the problems they experienced. He continued the germ theory study that others had started, and it was the results of this work that gave him success.
- The research done by Pasteur showed that organisms such as bacteria could be destroyed with a process of boiling the liquid and then cooling it. These organisms were responsible for milk, beer, and wine going sour. He finished his first tests in 1862, and we know the process today as pasteurization.
- Pasteur’s next study was in 1865 when he showed the silk industry that microbes were causing an unknown disease by attacking the silkworm eggs. He showed the industry how they could eliminate the microbes, and this process was used everywhere in the world by silk producers.
- By 1879 Pasteur had accidentally exposed chickens to a culture that contained a virus and found that the chickens had developed a resistance to the virus. He continued the study using his germ theory and developed his first vaccine that year. The vaccines that he created helped to fight cholera, tuberculosis, smallpox, and anthrax.
- Pasteur’s discoveries led him to be elected to the Académie de Médecine as an associate member in 1882. He was also accepted into the Académie Française that year, and it was then that he chose to try to help in finding a way to solve the rabies problem. He took a big chance in 1885 by vaccinating a nine-year-old boy who had been bitten by a rabid dog. The vaccine worked, and he became immediately internationally renowned. There was a campaign to raise funds, and in 1888 they built the Pasteur Institute in Paris.
- Pasteur died in 1895, and his remains were placed at the Pasteur institute a year later.
How did Pasteur discover the idea of vaccines?
By accidentally exposing a chicken to a culture with a virus
What industry was Pasteur working in when he started focusing on chemical structures?
The wine industry
What five major health problems of his time did Pasteur’s vaccines help?
Cholera, tuberculosis, smallpox, anthrax, and rabies
What process did Pasteur use to destroy bacteria in liquids?
Boiling the liquid and then cooling it
What is the name of the institute that was built to continue his scientific studies?
Pasteur Institute of Paris