Louis Pasteur was born on December 27, 1822, in Dole, France, and was one of the most famous chemists in history, with some era-defining contributions to science, technology, and medicine.

It would be hard to find great chemists who have pioneered more than one breakthrough discovery in a single lifetime.

Louis Pasteur was one such chemist; he is credited with pasteurization, the development of anthrax and rabies vaccines, and the germ theory of fermentation.

Pasteur occupied numerous academic positions in his life, and he was to France what Alexander Fleming was to Britain.

His efforts towards science earned him France's highest award, the Legion of Honour, as well as a seat at the Academie des Science along with many other distinctions. Countless schools, hospitals, streets, and monuments bear his name today.

A set of jars with closed lids containing peels of fruits and a liquid resting on a rack on a wooden table. Louis Pasteur was among the pioneering names in the study of fermentation in its present form
Several chemists have studied the fermentation of alcohol, but Pasteur was the first to identify the microbes behind the process and study other broad range fermentation processes like butyric acid fermentation. (Source: Unsplash)
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Early Years

Pasteur's father was a tanner who served as a sergeant major during the Napoleonic Wars, and this is where Pasteur inherited his strong sense of patriotism.

Louis Pasteur was a rather average student at school, only finding drawing and painting to be his forte. That's why it was somewhat surprising that he would make his name in chemistry history records!

Acquiring his primary education from Besançon, he became a bachelor of arts in 1840 and a bachelor of science in 1842 from the Royal College of Besançon.

In 1843 he joined the École Normale Supérieure, where he studied under the famous French chemist Jean Baptiste André and served as his teaching assistant.

He rounded up his education with a master's degree in science in 1845, following a doctorate in the natural sciences in 1847.

Pasteur's colorful career landed him the role of a physics professor at Dijon Lycée. After which, he elevated to the position of a chemistry professor at the University of Strasbourg.

He married Marie Laurent shortly afterward in 1849, who was the daughter of the university rector. They had five children, out of which only two survived.

Louis Pasteur's Scientific Achievements

As mentioned before, Pasteur became one of the only chemists in world history to be renowned for multiple discoveries.

This feat put him in the same breath as other chemists who have achieved a sort of celebrity status. Let's discuss some of his contributions:

Pasteur's Germ Theory

In 1854, Louis Pasteur was appointed the dean of the science department at the University of Lille. Here he was asked to look into some problems related to alcohol production at the distillery.

This appointment led him to research the fermentation of alcohol, specifically economic and practical production problems.

His findings allowed him to successfully pinpointed the problem areas, leading to breakthroughs in the fermentation process.

During his research, he was able to identify previously unnoticed aspects of fermentation, such as the presence of lactic acid during the fermentation of milk, which led to its souring, or the fermentation of butyric acid.

Pasteur also began work on studying diseases alongside his fermentation research. He believed that tiny microorganisms were responsible for causing most diseases. This theory, known as the germ theory, wasn't widely accepted by the science fraternity.

In the 1860s, Pasteur determined why blight plagued silkworms, a phenomenon affecting the French silk industry — placing the blame on two microorganisms causing the blight.

In 1857, he returned to Paris and took up a position as the director of scientific studies at the École Normale Supérieure.

In that year, he also presented evidence accumulated from his experiments that showed the role of microbes in the fermentation process. His work went on to link particular microbes to specific fermentation types, leading to the germ theory of fermentation.

This theory that specific microbes were involved in fermentation was also augmented by Pasteur's research on butyric acid fermentation.

These studies concluded that the fermentation process could be stopped if oxygen was passed through the fluid. This process came to be known as the Pasteur effect.

On this basis, Pasteur devised the terms aerobic and anaerobic to describe organisms that live in the presence or absence of oxygen.

He also put forward the theory that putrefaction was caused by specific microbes that thrived in anaerobic conditions.

While Joseph Priestley discovered oxygen, Pasteur shed light on its contribution to the anaerobic and aerobic behavior of microorganisms.

A man filling a pint of beer from a beer dispenser with another full beer glass beside it. The study of chemistry has real-life applications in several food and beverage industries like the beer and wine industry
Napoleon III commissioned Louis Pasteur to inspect the contamination problem that seemed to be plaguing the French alcohol industry. With considerable time and effort, he was able to identify the critical issues with the fermentation process. (Source: Unsplash)

Pasteurization

Those with even the slightest knowledge of milk production would be aware of the term pasteurization, a necessary process that very notably borrows its name from Louis Pasteur himself.

Like Rosalind Franklin is remembered for her pioneering work on DNA, Pasteur is unanimously recognized for devising the eponymous process of pasteurization that came to change the food and beverage industry.

With the knowledge from his study on microbes and fermentation in hand, he applied it to the wine and beer industries. Both industries were nearing collapse in France due to production hiccups and contamination during export.

At the request of Napoleon III, Pasteur was commissioned to study wine contamination and develop a solution. He found that it was caused by microbes and devised a unique solution to this problem.

The solution may seem simple now but had to be supervised intently: it consisted of heating alcohol to 50-60 degrees Celsius, a process which came to be known as pasteurization.

Although pasteurization is rarely used for wines nowadays as it kills the organisms that contribute to aging, it has found widespread popularity in keeping other foods and beverages fresh, especially milk.

Furthermore, following his work with wine, he experimented with studies on beer, developing techniques to control fermentation.

Pasteur successfully put forward a methodology for the brewing industry, devising a brewing and manufacturing technique for beer that prevented contamination and deterioration during long transport periods.

A clear glass full of milk placed next to a half-empty pitcher. The milk that we drink today stays fresh due to pasteurization, a process developed by Louis Pasteur. Although the process was also tried on alcoholic beverages, scientists found that it hampered the aging process
Whenever you buy milk from the supermarket, you're buying milk that has been subjected to the process of pasteurization, where it is heated to temperatures of 50-60 degrees Celsius and cooled rapidly. (Source: Unsplash)

Work On Vaccines

While conducting research on the growth of diseases, Pasteur also veered towards anthrax and fowl cholera.

He had a habit of refreshing sample laboratory cultures under observation by reintroducing them to controlled test subjects, in this case, laboratory chickens.

This experiment resulted in a resurgence of the virus and a repeat of the disease leading to death.

While this was routine experimentation, in one iteration of the experiment, he let the culture samples stand idle for a few months while he was on vacation.

On his return, he found that when he repeated the procedure, the chickens did not develop infections and stayed protected.

Upon inspection, he found that they were protected by a microbe they had weakened over time.

With this breakthrough discovery, he tried to replicate this technique to other diseases, notably anthrax. The effects proved fruitful, with the vaccine working at full pace and keeping the vaccinated animals alive.

Pasteur decided to move onto more advanced diseases, specifically those plaguing humans, rabies being his chief concern as it was seen as particularly vicious at that time.

The development of a viable vaccine for rabies was particularly challenging because the microorganism behind the disease could not be identified nor developed in vitro.

Reluctantly, Pasteur agreed to test it on his first human patient, a nine-year-old child named Joseph Meister, who was doomed to die otherwise.

Fortunately, the case proved to be successful and this breakthrough led to the birth of the Institut Pasteur, opening in 1888.

It still functions as one of the leading institutions for biomedical research and innovation globally, producing vaccines delegated to its pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur.

Implications Of Pasteur's Work

Pasteur's research had unrivaled theoretical implications in many industries, and his monumental chemistry discoveries had immense practical importance.

Unfortunately, he did not have enough time to explore the practical possibilities behind every discovery, leaving much of his work limited to theoretical research.

Of his theoretical research implications, the most important has to be the attenuation procedure for vaccines, particularly the concept that virulence can change depending on properties – and that it is not a constant factor.

He was the first among chemists to identify the variability in virulence. This establishes that virulence is a property that does not stay constant and can be lost or recovered later.

It can be decreased and increased, leading to a more significant increase and spread in epidemics. This fundamental research proves to be of practical use even today,

It has remained relevant in the study of infectious diseases and has helped humanity understand the emergence of AIDs and SARS.

Pasteur's health started deteriorating in his 70s, culminating in paralysis, and he died on September 28, 1895.

He was initially buried at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, but his remains were later moved to a crypt in the Pasteur Institute in 1896.

While he may not have won a Nobel Prize, unlike Marie Curie, he is still remembered as one of the most recognized names in science.

Become A Era-Defining Chemist Like Louis Pasteur

Humanity finds itself indebted to Louis Pasteur, and if you want to follow the path that he carved, you must become a chemistry whizz!

To learn more about the effects of Pasteur's findings, sign up for a Chemistry course on Superprof and find a tutor of choice near you!

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