If one were to choose among the greatest supporter of humanity, Louis Pasteur would certainly rank at the top. Louis Pasteur was a world renowned French chemist and biologist born on December 27, 1822 in the town of Dole in Eastern France into the family of a poor tanner. Pasteur’s work gave birth to many branches of science, and he was single handedly responsible for some of the most important theoretical concepts and practical applications of modern science. Pasteur’s achievements seem varied at first glance, but a more in-depth look at the evolution of his career specifies that there is a logical order to his discoveries.
He is respected for possessing the most important qualities of a scientist, the ability to survey all the known data and link the data for all possible hypotheses, the patience and drive to conduct experiments under strictly controlled conditions, and the brilliance to uncover the road to the solution from the results.
The young Pasteur worked hard during his student days he was not considered to be exceptional in any way at chemistry. He spent several years teaching and carrying out research at Dijon and Strasbourg and in 1854 moved to the University of Lille where he became professor of chemistry.
Contributions and Achievements:
When Pasteur started working as a chemist, he resolved a problem concerning the nature of tartaric acid (1849). Pasteur observed that the organic compound tartrate, when synthesized in a laboratory, was optically inactive (unable to rotate the plane of polarized light), unlike the tartrate from grapes, because the synthetic tartrate is composed of two optically asymmetric crystals. With cautious experimentation, he succeeded in separating the asymmetric crystals from each other and showed that each recovered optical activity. He then hypothesized that this molecular asymmetry is one of the mechanisms of life.
The mystery was that tartaric acid derived by chemical synthesis had no such effect, even though its chemical reactions were identical and its elemental composition was the same. In other words, living organisms only produce molecules that are of one specific orientation, and these molecules are always optically active. This was the first time anyone had demonstrated such a thing.
Pasteur founded the science of microbiology and proved that most infectious diseases are caused by micro-organisms. This became known as the “germ theory” of disease. The germ theory was the foundation of numerous applications, such as the large scale brewing of beer, wine-making and other antiseptic operations. Another significant discovery facilitated by the germ theory was the nature of contagious diseases. Pasteur’s intuited that if germs were the cause of fermentation, they could just as well be the cause of contagious diseases. This proved to be true for many diseases such as potato blight, silkworm diseases, and anthrax.
After studying the characteristics of germs and viruses that caused diseases, he and others found that laboratory manipulations of the infectious agents can be used to immunize people and animals. This treatment proved to work and saved countless lives and because of his study in germs, Pasteur encouraged many doctors to sanitize their hands and equipment before surgery.
Pasteur had a good theoretical understanding of microbes. He sought to apply his findings to the practical problem of stopping wine from spoiling. As many families depended on the wine industry for their livelihoods, and the French economy was heavily dependent on wine exports, this was a big problem. Pasteur achieved success by slightly modifying the process used with the broth. Boiling the wine would alter its flavour. Therefore, Pasteur heated the wine enough to kill most of the microbes present without changing the flavour. Chilling prevented any microbes left from multiplying.
To his great delight, Pasteur found that this process could also prevent milks from turning sour and preserve many other foodstuffs as well. Thus he became the inventor of a new process known as pasteurization which brought him more fame and recognition. Besides this Pasteur also developed vaccines for several diseases including rabies. The discovery of the vaccine for rabies led to the founding of the Pasteur Institute in Paris in 1888.
On the discipline of rigid and strict experimental tests he commented, “Imagination should give wings to our thoughts but we always need important experimental proof, and when the moment comes to draw conclusions and to understand the gathered observations, imagination must be checked and documented by the factual results of the experiment. All of these achievements point to singular brilliance and perseverance in Pasteur’s nature. Pasteur’s name lives on in the microbiological research institute in Paris that bears his name, the Institute Pasteur and continues to be today as a center of microbiology and immunology.