Scientist Of The Month : Louis Pasteur

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) was a French Chemist and Microbiologist. He is best known as the inventor of pasteurization. His work with germs and microorganisms and his unique techniques of science inquiry were extremely beneficial to industries such as wine, beer and silk.

Pasteur became a professor of chemistry at the University of Lille in 1854. It was here that he began studying fermintation of wine and beer. He became convinced that "the germs of microorganisms abound in the surface of all objects, in the air and in water." These views were expressed in a paper he wrote in 1878. He was able to demonstrate that "germs" cause milk to sour and also led to infectious diseases.

Pasteur discovered that these microorganisms could be killed by heat. As a result, he invented the process of heat treatment to kill harmful bacteria. His discovery led him to be recognized as a pioneer in preventative medicine.

Surrounded by great skepticism, Pasteur was able to develop vaccines to control diseases such as chicken cholera and anthrax, which was then a serious threat to livestock and occasionally humans.

In 1880 Pasteur turned his attention to develop a vaccine to control hydrophobia, (rabies). The only way to test the rabies vaccine was to inject it into a human. He was able to do this in July of 1885 with a young boy named Joseph Meister. As a result of successfully treating the boy, Pasteur became an international celebrity.

Pasteur virtually created the science of immunology and continued to work up until the time of his death. He received many awards and honors in his life time. A grateful France founded the Pasteur Institute, which became one of the most productive centers for biological studies in the world.

Pasteur was burned in a crypt in the Pasteur Institute. There is a story that in 1940 the conquering Germans came to Paris. A German officer demanded to see the tomb of Pasteur, but the soldier guarding the tomb refused to open the gate. When the German office insisted, the Frenchman killed himself. His name was Joseph Meister, the boy Pasteur had saved from hydrophobia (rabies) years ago.

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