Biography of Louis Pasteur

The Link Between Germs and Disease

Louis Pasteur
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Louis Pasteur (1822–1895) was a French biologist and chemist whose breakthrough discoveries into the causes and prevention of disease ushered in the modern era of medicine.

Early Years

Louis Pasteur was born December 27, 1822 in Dole, France, into a Catholic family. He was the third child of Jean-Joseph Pasteur and Jeanne-Etiennette Roqui. He attended primary school when he was nine years old, and at that time didn't show any particular interest in the sciences.

He was, however, quite a good artist.

In 1839, he was accepted to the Collège Royal at Besancon, from which he graduated in 1842 with honors in physics, mathematics, Latin, and drawing. He later attended Ecole Normale to study physics and chemistry, specializing in crystals. He served briefly as a professor of physics at the Lycee in Dijon, and later became professor of chemistry at the University of Strasbourg.

Personal Life

It was at the University of Strasbourg that Pasteur met Marie Laurent, the daughter of the university's rector. The couple married on May 29, 1849 and had five children. Only two of those children survived to adulthood. The other three died of typhoid fever, maybe leading to Pasteur's drive to save people from disease. 

Accomplishments

Over the course of his career, Pasteur conducted research that ushered in the modern era of medicine and science. Thanks to his discoveries, people could now live longer and healthier lives.

His early work with the wine growers of France, in which he developed a way to pasteurize and kill germs as part of the fermentation process, meant that all kinds of liquids could now be safely brought to market—wine, milk, and even beer. He was even granted U.S. patent 135,245 for "Improvement in Brewing Beer and Ale Pasteurization." 

Additional accomplishments included his discovery of a cure for a certain disease that affected silk worms, which was a tremendous boon to the textile industry. He also found cures for chicken cholera, anthrax, and rabies.

The Pasteur Institute

In 1857, Pasteur moved to Paris, where he took up a series of professorships before opening the Pasteur Institute in 1888. The purpose of the institute was the treatment of rabies and the study of virulent and contagious diseases.

The Institute pioneered studies in microbiology, and held the first-ever class in the new discipline in 1889. Starting in 1891, Pasteur began to open other Institutes throughout Europe to advance his ideas. Today, there are 32 Pasteur institutes or hospitals in 29 countries throughout the world.

The Germ Theory of Disease

During Louis Pasteur's lifetime it was not easy for him to convince others of his ideas, controversial in their time but considered absolutely correct today. Pasteur fought to convince surgeons that germs existed and that they were the cause of disease, not "bad air," the prevailing theory up to that point. Furthermore, he insisted that germs could be spread via human contact and even medical instruments, and that killing germs through pasteurization and sterilization was imperative to preventing the spread of disease.

In addition, Pasteur advanced the study of virology. His work with rabies led him to realize that weak forms of disease could be used as an "immunization" against stronger forms. 

Famous Quotes

"Did you ever observe to whom the accidents happen? Chance favors only the prepared mind."

"Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity, and is the torch which illuminates the world."

Controversy 

A few historians disagree with the accepted wisdom regarding Pasteur's discoveries. At the centennial of the biologist's death in 1995, a historian specializing in science, Gerald L. Geison, published a book analyzing Pasteur's private notebooks, which had only been made public about a decade earlier. In "The Private Science of Louis Pasteur," Geison asserted that Pasteur had given misleading accounts about many of his important discoveries.

Still other critics labeled him an out and out fraud.

Regardless, there is no denying the millions of lives saved because of Pasteur's work.

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Bellis, Mary. "Biography of Louis Pasteur." ThoughtCo, Apr. 23, 2018, thoughtco.com/louis-pasteur-biography-1992343. Bellis, Mary. (2018, April 23). Biography of Louis Pasteur. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/louis-pasteur-biography-1992343 Bellis, Mary. "Biography of Louis Pasteur." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/louis-pasteur-biography-1992343 (accessed May 27, 2018).