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Louis Pasteur

Chemist, microbiologist, vaccinations

Have you ever had pasteurized milk or milk products and wondered how it all began? We have to thank the French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur for all his work in contributing to that and to the areas of industry, medicine, and chemistry.

Pasteur was born on the 27th of December 1822 in Dole France and he is the third child of Jean-Joseph and Jeanne-Etiennette Pasteur.

His father and the entire Pasteur family were tanners – people who prepare leather from animal skin.

Pasteur was a talented artist, but in school, he was quite an average student at the beginning.

By the time he was a teenager, with some encouragement from his headmaster, the young Pasteur studied extra hard and won almost all the prizes in school.

He wanted to become a teacher, but graduated with a degree in science at 20 years. Even though he was quite homesick, he went on to do his PhD, studying to form of crystals.

When he was just 26 years old his work in crystals and the effect certain crystals have on light made him famous, and the French government honoured him with a medal for his work.

His work in fermentation began after he was appointed chairperson of the chemistry department at the University of Strasbourg in France, in 1852. He was only 30 years old.

Fermentation is a type of chemical process that turns or converts sugar into alcohol. The breakthroughs he achieved helped to improve the quality of beer and wine.

His work in pasteurization began a year later because of a request for help by a vinegar producer. This man came to get Pasteur’s help to stop his vinegar from spoiling.

Pasteur studied the vinegar under the microscope and found that there was yeast that was making the vinegar spoil. He also showed how heating the vinegar destroyed the yeast.

This process of destroying the fermentation through heating the yeast was called pasteurization. Today it is used to preserve many milk products like milk and cheese.

Not only was it helpful with food, but it also helped to prevent infection during operations in hospital.

Sadly, for this great man family tragedy struck when he lost his father and his two daughters within 2 years.

This caused him so much grief that he suffered a brain bleed, which caused his left arm and leg to become paralyzed for good.

No hardship stopped him from working. In the Franco-German War in 1870, Pasteur saw how so many soldiers died from infected wounds.

He realized that there were microbes (certain infection causing bacteria) that lived on the medical instruments and bandages used to treat the wounded soldiers.

He begged the doctors to sterilize the instruments (heating them until the microbes died) which greatly reduced the amount of infection and death in the camps.

His achievement saved so many lives that he was made a member of the French Academy of Medicine in 1873, even though he was not a doctor.

Louse Pasteur did a lot of great work with animals too. His research on sheep and rabbits gave world the method of inoculation.

Inoculation is a process where a weakened agent of a disease, which a person/animal already has, is introduced into the body. Therefore, the person/animal gets a lesser form of the disease. This was his germ theory.

This works by strengthening the body against the actual (more serious) disease. This process is called inoculation and Pasteur proves it by experimenting on sheep.

With even more experiments, Pasteur developed vaccinations to treat anthrax, cholera, tuberculosis, and smallpox.

He worked together with other scientists to understand and inoculate against the rabies virus too. Rabies is a dangerous and fatal disease of animals, but especially dogs, which humans can get if a rabies infected animal bits the human.

Pasteur’s and the other scientists’ ground breaking work that introduced a vaccination (where the inoculation is given through an injection) was a relief to the whole world.

In honour of all his tireless work to prevent and cure so many deadly disease that had cost many lives, France founded the Pasteur Institute in 1888 which is today one of the most famous centres to study biology in the world.

His seventieth birthday in 1892 was officially made a national holiday. But he was weak with old age and because he was partly paralyzed so his son read out a speech he had prepared for the entire world.

Three years later, on the 28th of September 1895 this great man left the world. He died in Paris, and his last words were “one must work, one must work. I have done what I could.”

His remains are buried in a tomb at the Pasteur Institute.

Today we are able to live longer, recover from diseases that would otherwise kill us, preserve food longer, and understand the nature of diseases and bacteria because of the work of this great and brave man.