Born: December 27, 1822
Born Place: Dole, France
Died: September 28, 1895
Death Place: Marnes-la-Coquette, France
Education: École Normale Supérieure (1847)
- Legion of Honor Grand Cross (1881)
- Rumford Medal (1856)
- Foreign Member of the Royal Society (1869)
- Copley Medal (1874)
- Albert Medal (1882)
- Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences (1883)
- Cameron Prize for Therapeutics of the University of Edinburgh (1889)
- Leeuwenhoek Medal (1895)
- Order of the Medjidie
Louis Pasteur (December 27, 1822 – September 28, 1895) was a French biologist, microbiologist, and chemist renowned for his discoveries of the principles of vaccination, microbial fermentation and pasteurization. He is remembered for his remarkable breakthroughs in the causes and prevention of diseases, and his discoveries have saved many lives ever since. He reduced mortality from puerperal fever and created the first vaccines for rabies and anthrax.
His medical discoveries provided direct support for the germ theory of disease and its application in clinical medicine. He is best known to the general public for his invention of the technique of treating milk and wine to stop bacterial contamination, a process now called pasteurization. He is regarded as one of the three main founders of bacteriology, together with Ferdinand Cohn and Robert Koch, and is popularly known as the “father of microbiology”.
Pasteur was responsible for disproving the doctrine of spontaneous generation. He performed experiments that showed that, without contamination, microorganisms could not develop. Under the auspices of the French Academy of Sciences, he demonstrated that in sterilized and sealed flasks, nothing ever developed; and, conversely, in sterilized but open flasks, microorganisms could grow. Although Pasteur was not the first to propose the germ theory, his experiments indicated its correctness and convinced most of Europe that it was true.
Today, he is often regarded as one of the fathers of germ theory. Pasteur made significant discoveries in chemistry, most notably on the molecular basis for the asymmetry of certain crystals and racemization. Early in his career, his investigation of tartaric acid resulted in the first resolution of what is now called optical isomers. His work led the way to the current understanding of a fundamental principle in the structure of organic compounds.
He was the director of the Pasteur Institute, established in 1887, until his death, and his body was interred in a vault beneath the institute. Although Pasteur made groundbreaking experiments, his reputation became associated with various controversies. Historical reassessment of his notebook revealed that he practiced deception to overcome his rivals.
Louis Pasteur was born on December 27, 1822, in Dole, Jura, France, to a Catholic family of a poor tanner. He was the third child of Jean-Joseph Pasteur and Jeanne-Etiennette Roqui. The family moved to Marnoz in 1826 and then to Arbois in 1827. Pasteur entered primary school in 1831.
He was an average student in his early years, and not particularly academic, as his interests were fishing and sketching. He drew many pastels and portraits of his parents, friends and neighbors. Pasteur attended secondary school at the Collège d’Arbois. In October 1838, he left for Paris to join the Pension Barbet, but became homesick and returned in November.
In 1839, he entered the Collège Royal at Besançon to study philosophy and earned his Bachelor of Letters degree in 1840. He was appointed a tutor at the Besançon college while continuing a degree science course with special mathematics. He failed his first examination in 1841. He managed to pass the baccalauréat scientifique (general science) degree in 1842 from Dijon but with a mediocre grade in chemistry.
Later in 1842, Pasteur took the entrance test for the École Normale Supérieure. He passed the first set of tests, but because his ranking was low, Pasteur decided not to continue and try again next year. He went back to the Pension Barbet to prepare for the test. He also attended classes at the Lycée Saint-Louis and lectures of Jean-Baptiste Dumas at the Sorbonne. In 1843, he passed the test with a high ranking and entered the École Normale Supérieure. In 1845 he received the licencié ès sciences (Master of Science) degree. In 1846, he was appointed professor of physics at the Collège de Tournon (now called Lycée Gabriel-Faure) in Ardèche, but the chemist Antoine Jérôme Balard wanted him back at the École Normale Supérieure as a graduate laboratory assistant (agrégé préparateur). He joined Balard and simultaneously started his research in crystallography and in 1847, he submitted his two theses, one in chemistry and the other in physics.
After serving briefly as professor of physics at the Dijon Lycée in 1848, he became professor of chemistry at the University of Strasbourg, where he met and courted Marie Laurent, daughter of the university’s rector in 1849. They were married on May 29, 1849, and together had five children, only two of whom survived to adulthood; the other three died of typhoid.
Pasteur was appointed professor of chemistry at the University of Strasbourg in 1848, and became the chair of chemistry in 1852. In 1854, he was named dean of the new faculty of sciences at University of Lille, where he began his studies on fermentation. It was on this occasion that Pasteur uttered his oft-quoted remark: “dans les champs de l’observation, le hasard ne favorise que les esprits préparés” (“In the field of observation, chance favors only the prepared mind”).
In 1857, he moved to Paris as the director of scientific studies at the École Normale Supérieure where he took control from 1858 to 1867 and introduced a series of reforms to improve the standard of scientific work. The examinations became more rigid, which led to better results, greater competition, and increased prestige. Many of his decrees, however, were rigid and authoritarian, leading to two serious student revolts. During “the bean revolt” he decreed that a mutton stew, which students had refused to eat, would be served and eaten every Monday. On another occasion he threatened to expel any student caught smoking, and 73 of the 80 students in the school resigned.
In 1863, he was appointed professor of geology, physics, and chemistry at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, a position he held until his resignation in 1867. In 1867, he became the chair of organic chemistry at the Sorbonne, but he later gave up the position because of poor health. In 1867, the École Normale’s laboratory of physiological chemistry was created at Pasteur’s request, and he was the laboratory’s director from 1867 to 1888. In Paris, he established the Pasteur Institute in 1887, in which he was its director for the rest of his life.
AWARDS AND HONOURS
Pasteur was awarded 1,500 francs in 1853 by the Pharmaceutical Society for the synthesis of racemic acid. In 1856 the Royal Society of London presented him the Rumford Medal for his discovery of the nature of racemic acid and its relations to polarized light, and the Copley Medal in 1874 for his work on fermentation. He was elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society (ForMemRS) in 1869.
The French Academy of Sciences awarded Pasteur the 1859 Montyon Prize for experimental physiology in 1860, and the Jecker Prize in 1861 and the Alhumbert Prize in 1862 for his experimental refutation of spontaneous generation. Though he lost elections in 1857 and 1861 for membership to the French Academy of Sciences, he won the 1862 election for membership to the mineralogy section. He was elected to permanent secretary of the physical science section of the academy in 1887 and held the position until 1889.
In 1873 Pasteur was elected to the Académie Nationale de Médecine and was made the commander in the Brazilian Order of the Rose. In 1881 he was elected to a seat at the Académie française left vacant by Émile Littré. Pasteur received the Albert Medal from the Royal Society of Arts in 1882. In 1883 he became foreign member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. On June 8, 1886, the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II awarded Pasteur with the Order of the Medjidie (I Class) and 10000 Ottoman liras. He was awarded the Cameron Prize for Therapeutics of the University of Edinburgh in 1889. Pasteur won the Leeuwenhoek Medal from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences for his contributions to microbiology in 1895.
Pasteur was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour in 1853, promoted to Officer in 1863, to Commander in 1868, to Grand Officer in 1878 and made a Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor in 1881.
In 1868, Pasteur suffered a severe brain stroke that paralysed the left side of his body, but he recovered. A stroke or uremia in 1894 severely impaired his health. Failing to fully recover, he died on September 28, 1895, near Paris. He was given a state funeral and was buried in the Cathedral of Notre Dame, but his remains were reinterred in the Pasteur Institute in Paris, in a vault covered in depictions of his accomplishments in Byzantine mosaics.