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Louis Pasteur (1822-1895)

"If it is a terrifying thought that life is at the mercy of the multiplication of these minute bodies [microbes], it is a consoling hope that Science will not always remain powerless before such enemies..."

~ Louis Pasteur, Address at the Inauguration of the Pasteur Institute, 1888

Taken from the colours of a tartan shawl in a portrait Louis Pasteur did of his mother, this namesake tartan marks just one of the significant days in the remarkable life of Louis Pasteur, French biologist, microbiologist and chemist, renowned for his discoveries of the principles of vaccination, microbial fermentation and pasteurization. As the director of scientific studies at the Ecole Normale in Paris, Pasteur pursued his novel germ theory, which posited that microscopic germs attack the body from the outside, rather than as a result of the then prevalent theory of "spontaneous generation." His work led to the development of vaccinations for many germ-borne diseases, including anthrax, tuberculosis, cholera and smallpox. It also led to further work on rabies, which was much more prevalent in the 19th century. By creating a vaccine from a weakened form of the live virus, on July 6, 1885, he administered this vaccine to Joseph Meister, a 9-year-old boy who had been attacked by a rabid dog. The boy survived and avoided contracting rabies, which would have almost certainly proved fatal. 💉

Louis Pasteur (December 27, 1822 – September 28, 1895) was a French microbiologist and chemist best known for experiments and developments in the area of fermentation and the germ theory of disease.


His many experimental discoveries and applications crossed disciplines in chemistry, geology and physics, and to areas of commercial application. 


Louis Pasteur was born on December 27, 1822 in Dole in the Jura region of France, into the family of a poor tanner. Louis gained degrees in Letters and in Mathematical Sciences before entering the École Normale Supérieure, an elite college.


After serving briefly as professor of physics at 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. Together they had five children though only two survived to adulthood, losing the other three to typhoid fever in childhood.  These personal tragedies inspired Pasteur to try to find cures for diseases, such as typhoid.


In 1854, Pasteur was appointed professor of chemistry and dean of the science faculty at the University of Lille. There, he worked on finding solutions to the problems with the manufacture of alcoholic drinks. He then invented a process where bacteria could be removed by boiling and then cooling liquid, the process known today as pasteurization.


Shifting focus, in 1865, Pasteur helped save the silk industry. He proved that microbes were attacking healthy silkworm eggs, causing an unknown disease and that the disease would be eliminated if the microbes were eliminated. 


Pasteur's first vaccine discovery was in 1879, with a disease called chicken cholera. After accidentally exposing chickens to the attenuated form of a culture, he demonstrated that they became resistant to the actual virus. Pasteur went on to extend his germ theory to develop causes and vaccinations for diseases such as anthrax, cholera, TB and smallpox.


For more on the "Father of Immunology" click the portrait of his mother,  Jeanne-Etienne Roqui, which he did when he was 13 years old, in 1836.