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Louis Pasteur

Louis Pasteur, foto av Paul Nadar, Crisco edit.jpg
Photograph by Nadar
Born (1822-12-27)27 December 1822
Dole, France
Died 28 September 1895(1895-09-28) (aged 72)
Education Mathematics, Docteur ès Sciences (Chemical Physics)
Alma mater
Known for Germ theory of disease
Rabies vaccine
Cholera vaccine
Anthrax vaccines
(m. 1849)
Children 5
Scientific career
  • University of Strasbourg
  • University of Lille
  • École Normale Supérieure
  • Pasteur Institute
Notable students Charles Friedel
Louis Pasteur Signature.svg

Louis Pasteur ForMemRS ( 27 December 1822 – 28 September 1895) was a French chemist and microbiologist renowned for his discoveries of the principles of vaccination, microbial fermentation, and pasteurization, the last of which was named after him.

His research in chemistry led to remarkable breakthroughs in the understanding of the causes and preventions of diseases, which laid down the foundations of hygiene, public health and much of modern medicine. Pasteur's works are credited with saving millions of lives through the developments of vaccines for rabies and anthrax.

He is regarded as one of the founders of modern bacteriology and has been honored as the "father of bacteriology" and the "father of microbiology" (together with Robert Koch; the latter epithet also attributed to Antonie van Leeuwenhoek).

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.

Education and early life

Portraits of Pasteur's parents, painted by himself
Louis Pasteur Geburtshaus in Dole
The house in which Pasteur was born, Dole

Louis Pasteur was born on 27 December 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.

Pasteur attended secondary school at the Collège d'Arbois. In October 1838, he left for Paris to enroll in a boarding school, 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 from Dijon, where he earned his Bachelor of Science in Mathematics degree (Bachelier ès Sciences Mathématiques) in 1842, 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 Parisian boarding school 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 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: (a) Chemistry Thesis: "Recherches sur la capacité de saturation de l'acide arsénieux. Etudes des arsénites de potasse, de soude et d'ammoniaque."; (b) Physics Thesis: "1. Études des phénomènes relatifs à la polarisation rotatoire des liquides. 2. Application de la polarisation rotatoire des liquides à la solution de diverses questions de chimie."

After serving briefly as professor of physics at the Dijon Lycée in 1848, he became professor of chemistry at the University of Strasbourg.

Personal life

In Strasbourg, he met and courted Marie Laurent, daughter of the university's rector in 1849. They were married on 29 May 1849, and together had five children. Only two of them survived to adulthood; the other three died of typhoid.


Louis Pasteur, French biologist, 1878, Paris slnsw
Louis Pasteur, French biologist and chemist, 1878, by A Gerschel

Pasteur was appointed professor of chemistry at the University of Strasbourg in 1848, and became the chair of chemistry in 1852.

In February 1854, to have time to carry out work that could earn him the title of correspondent of the Institute. In this same year 1854, he was named dean of the new faculty of sciences at University of Lille, where he began his studies on fermentation.

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.

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.


Molecular asymmetry

Pasteur separated the left and right crystal shapes from each other to form two piles of crystals: in solution one form rotated light to the left, the other to the right, while an equal mixture of the two forms canceled each other's effect, and does not rotate the polarized light.

In Pasteur's early work as a chemist, beginning at the École Normale Supérieure, and continuing at Strasbourg and Lille, he examined the chemical, optical and crystallographic properties of a group of compounds known as tartrates.

He resolved a problem concerning the nature of tartaric acid in 1848. Pasteur noticed that crystals of tartrates had small faces. Then he observed that half of the crystals were right-handed and half were left-handed. In solution, the right-handed compound was dextrorotatory, and the left-handed one was levorotatory. Pasteur determined that an asymmetric internal arrangement of the molecules of the compound was responsible for twisting the light.

Some historians consider Pasteur's work in this area to be his "most profound and most original contributions to science", and his "greatest scientific discovery."

Fermentation and germ theory of diseases

Pasteur was motivated to investigate fermentation while working at Lille. Pasteur began his research in the topic by repeating and confirming works of Theodor Schwann, who demonstrated a decade earlier that yeast were alive.

Louis Pasteur experiment
Pasteur experimenting in his laboratory
Institut Pasteur de Lille

Pasteur's research showed that the growth of micro-organisms was responsible for spoiling beverages, such as beer, wine and milk. With this established, he invented a process in which liquids such as milk were heated to a temperature between 60 and 100 °C. This killed most bacteria and moulds already present within them. Pasteur patented the process, to fight the "diseases" of wine, in 1865. The method became known as pasteurization, and was soon applied to beer and milk.

Beverage contamination led Pasteur to the idea that micro-organisms infecting animals and humans cause disease. He proposed preventing the entry of micro-organisms into the human body, leading Joseph Lister to develop antiseptic methods in surgery.

Silkworm desease

In the early 19th century, Agostino Bassi had shown that muscardine was caused by a fungus that infected silkworms. Since 1853, two diseases called pébrine and flacherie had been infecting great numbers of silkworms in southern France, and by 1865 they were causing huge losses to farmers. In 1865, Pasteur went to Alès and worked for five years until 1870.

Silkworms with pébrine were covered in corpuscles. In the first three years, Pasteur thought that the corpuscles were a symptom of the disease. In 1870, he concluded that the corpuscles were the cause of pébrine (it is now known that the cause is a microsporidian). Pasteur also showed that the disease was hereditary. Pasteur developed a system to prevent pébrine: after the female moths laid their eggs, the moths were turned into a pulp. The pulp was examined with a microscope, and if corpuscles were observed, the eggs were destroyed. Pasteur concluded that bacteria caused flacherie. The primary cause is currently thought to be viruses. The spread of flacherie could be accidental or hereditary. Hygiene could be used to prevent accidental flacherie. Moths whose digestive cavities did not contain the microorganisms causing flacherie were used to lay eggs, preventing hereditary flacherie.

Spontaneous generation

Bottle en col de cygne (swan-neck bottle) used by Pasteur
Louis Pasteur Experiment
Louis Pasteur’s pasteurization experiment illustrates the fact that the spoilage of liquid was caused by particles in the air rather than the air itself. These experiments were important pieces of evidence supporting the germ theory of disease.

Following his fermentation experiments, Pasteur demonstrated that the skin of grapes was the natural source of yeasts, and that sterilized grapes and grape juice never fermented. He drew grape juice from under the skin with sterilized needles, and also covered grapes with sterilized cloth. Both experiments could not produce wine in sterilized containers.

His findings and ideas were against the prevailing notion of spontaneous generation. Pasteur performed several experiments to disprove spontaneous generation. He placed boiled liquid in a flask and let hot air enter the flask. Then he closed the flask, and no organisms grew in it. In another experiment, when he opened flasks containing boiled liquid, dust entered the flasks, causing organisms to grow in some of them. The number of flasks in which organisms grew was lower at higher altitudes, showing that air at high altitudes contained less dust and fewer organisms. Pasteur also used swan neck flasks containing a fermentable liquid. Air was allowed to enter the flask via a long curving tube that made dust particles stick to it. Nothing grew in the broths unless the flasks were tilted, making the liquid touch the contaminated walls of the neck. This showed that the living organisms that grew in such broths came from outside, on dust, rather than spontaneously generating within the liquid or from the action of pure air.

These were some of the most important experiments disproving the theory of spontaneous generation. Pasteur gave a series of five presentations of his findings before the French Academy of Sciences in 1881. Pasteur won the Alhumbert Prize in 1862.

Immunology and vaccination

Chicken cholera

Pasteur's first work on vaccine development was on chicken cholera. He received the bacteria samples (later called Pasteurella multocida after him) from Henry Toussaint. He started the study in 1877, and by the next year, was able to maintain a stable culture using broths. After another year of continuous culturing, he found that the bacteria were less pathogenic. Some of his culture samples could no longer induce the disease in healthy chickens. In 1879, Pasteur, planning for holiday, instructed his assistant, Charles Chamberland to inoculate the chickens with fresh bacteria culture. Chamberland forgot and went on holiday himself. On his return, he injected the month-old cultures to healthy chickens. The chickens showed some symptoms of infection, but instead of the infections being fatal, as they usually were, the chickens recovered completely. Chamberland assumed an error had been made, and wanted to discard the apparently faulty culture, but Pasteur stopped him. Pasteur injected the freshly recovered chickens with fresh bacteria that normally would kill other chickens; the chickens no longer showed any sign of infection. It was clear to him that the weakened bacteria had caused the chickens to become immune to the disease.

In December 1880, Pasteur presented his results to the French Academy of Sciences. He attributed that the bacteria were weakened by contact with oxygen. He explained that bacteria kept in sealed containers never lost their virulence, and only those exposed to air in culture media could be used as vaccine. Pasteur introduced the term "attenuation" for this weakening of virulence.

In fact, Pasteur's vaccine against chicken cholera was not regular in its effects and was a failure.


In the 1870s, he applied this immunization method to anthrax, which affected cattle. Pasteur cultivated bacteria from the blood of animals infected with anthrax. When he inoculated animals with the bacteria, anthrax occurred, proving that the bacteria was the cause of the disease. Many cattle were dying of anthrax in "cursed fields". Pasteur was told that sheep that died from anthrax were buried in the field. Pasteur thought that earthworms might have brought the bacteria to the surface. He found anthrax bacteria in earthworms' excrement, showing that he was correct. He told the farmers not to bury dead animals in the fields. Pasteur had been trying to develop the anthrax vaccine since 1877, soon after Robert Koch's discovery of the bacterium.

Albert Edelfelt - Louis Pasteur - 1885
Louis Pasteur in his laboratory, painting by A. Edelfeldt in 1885

Pasteur found that anthrax bacillus was not easily weakened by culturing in air as it formed spores – unlike chicken cholera bacillus. In early 1881, he discovered that growing anthrax bacilli at about 42 °C made them unable to produce spores. On 21 March, he announced successful vaccination of sheep. To this news, veterinarian Hippolyte Rossignol proposed that the Société d'agriculture de Melun organize an experiment to test Pasteur's vaccine. Pasteur signed agreement of the challenge on 28 April.

A public experiment was conducted in May at Pouilly-le-Fort. 58 sheep, 2 goats and 10 cattle were used, half of which were given the vaccine on 5 and 17 May; while the other half was untreated. All the animals were injected with the fresh virulent culture of anthrax bacillus on 31 May. The official result was observed and analysed on 2 June in the presence of over 200 spectators. All vaccinated sheep and goats survived, while unvaccinated ones had died or were dying before the viewers.

In 1876, Robert Koch had shown that Bacillus anthracis caused anthrax. In his papers published between 1878 and 1880, Pasteur only mentioned Koch's work in a footnote. Koch met Pasteur at the Seventh International Medical Congress in 1881. A few months later, Koch wrote that Pasteur had used impure cultures and made errors. In 1882, Pasteur replied to Koch in a speech, to which Koch responded aggressively. Koch stated that Pasteur tested his vaccine on unsuitable animals and that Pasteur's research was not properly scientific. In 1882, Koch wrote "On the Anthrax Inoculation", in which he refuted several of Pasteur's conclusions about anthrax and criticized Pasteur for keeping his methods secret, jumping to conclusions, and being imprecise. In 1883, Pasteur wrote that he used cultures prepared in a similar way to his successful fermentation experiments and that Koch misinterpreted statistics and ignored Pasteur's work on silkworms.

Swine erysipelas

In 1882, Pasteur sent his assistant Louis Thuillier to southern France because of an epizootic of swine erysipelas. Thuillier identified the bacillus that caused the disease in March 1883. Pasteur and Thuillier increased the bacillus's virulence after passing it through pigeons. Then they passed the bacillus through rabbits, weakening it and obtaining a vaccine. Pasteur and Thuillier incorrectly described the bacterium as a figure-eight shape. Roux described the bacterium as stick-shaped in 1884.


Louis Pasteur Vanity Fair 8 January 1887
Captioned "Hydrophobia", caricature of Pasteur in the London magazine Vanity Fair, January 1887

Pasteur produced the first vaccine for rabies by growing the virus in rabbits, and then weakening it by drying the affected nerve tissue. The rabies vaccine was initially created by Emile Roux, a French doctor and a colleague of Pasteur, who had produced a killed vaccine using this method. The vaccine had been tested in 50 dogs before its first human trial. This vaccine was used on 9-year-old Joseph Meister, on 6 July 1885, after the boy was badly mauled by a rabid dog. This was done at some personal risk for Pasteur, since he was not a licensed physician and could have faced prosecution for treating the boy. After consulting with physicians, he decided to go ahead with the treatment. Over 11 days, Meister received 13 inoculations, each inoculation using viruses that had been weakened for a shorter period of time. Three months later he examined Meister and found that he was in good health. Pasteur was hailed as a hero and the legal matter was not pursued. Analysis of his laboratory notebooks shows that Pasteur had treated two people before his vaccination of Meister. One survived but may not actually have had rabies, and the other died of rabies. Pasteur began treatment of Jean-Baptiste Jupille on 20 October 1885, and the treatment was successful. Later in 1885, people, including four children from the United States, went to Pasteur's laboratory to be inoculated. In 1886, he treated 350 people, of which only one developed rabies. The treatment's success laid the foundations for the manufacture of many other vaccines. The first of the Pasteur Institutes was also built on the basis of this achievement.

In The Story of San Michele, Axel Munthe writes of some risks Pasteur undertook in the rabies vaccine research:

Pasteur himself was absolutely fearless. Anxious to secure a sample of saliva straight from the jaws of a rabid dog, I once saw him with the glass tube held between his lips draw a few drops of the deadly saliva from the mouth of a rabid bull-dog, held on the table by two assistants, their hands protected by leather gloves.

Because of his study in germs, Pasteur encouraged doctors to sanitize their hands and equipment before surgery. Prior to this, few doctors or their assistants practiced these procedures. Ignaz Semmelweis and Joseph Lister had earlier practiced hand sanitizing in medical contexts in the 1860s.

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. In 1885, he was elected as a member to the American Philosophical Society. On 8 June 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.

Danang Vietnam rue Pasteur2
Pasteur Street (Đường Pasteur) in Da Nang, Vietnam


Vulitsya Pastera
Vulitsya Pastera or Pasteur Street in Odessa, Ukraine

In many localities worldwide, streets are named in his honor. For example, in the US: Palo Alto and Irvine, California, Boston and Polk, Florida, adjacent to the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio; Jonquière, Québec; San Salvador de Jujuy and Buenos Aires (Argentina), Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, in the United Kingdom, Jericho and Wulguru in Queensland, Australia; Phnom Penh in Cambodia; Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang, Vietnam; Batna in Algeria; Bandung in Indonesia, Tehran in Iran, near the central campus of the Warsaw University in Warsaw, Poland; adjacent to the Odessa State Medical University in Odessa, Ukraine; Milan in Italy and Bucharest, Cluj-Napoca and Timișoara in Romania. The Avenue Pasteur in Saigon, Vietnam, is one of the few streets in that city to retain its French name. Avenue Louis Pasteur in the Longwood Medical and Academic Area in Boston was named in his honor in the French manner with "Avenue" preceding the name of the dedicatee.

Both the Institut Pasteur and Université Louis Pasteur were named after Pasteur. The schools Lycée Pasteur in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, and Lycée Louis Pasteur in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, are named after him. In South Africa, the Louis Pasteur Private Hospital in Pretoria, and Life Louis Pasteur Private Hospital, Bloemfontein, are named after him. Louis Pasteur University Hospital in Košice, Slovakia is also named after Pasteur.

UNLP Košice, Poliklinika (1)
Louis Pasteur University Hospital, Košice, Slovakia

A statue of Pasteur is erected at San Rafael High School in San Rafael, California. A bronze bust of him resides on the French Campus of Kaiser Permanente's San Francisco Medical Center in San Francisco. The sculpture was designed by Harriet G. Moore and cast in 1984 by Artworks Foundry.

The UNESCO/Institut Pasteur Medal was created on the centenary of Pasteur's death, and is given every two years in his name, "in recognition of outstanding research contributing to a beneficial impact on human health".

The French Academician Henri Mondor stated: "Louis Pasteur was neither a physician nor a surgeon, but no one has done as much for medicine and surgery as he has."

Pasteur Institute

After developing the rabies vaccine, Pasteur proposed an institute for the vaccine. In 1887, fundraising for the Pasteur Institute began, with donations from many countries. The official statute was registered in 1887, stating that the institute's purposes were "the treatment of rabies according to the method developed by M. Pasteur" and "the study of virulent and contagious diseases". The institute was inaugurated on 14 November 1888. He brought together scientists with various specialties. The first five departments were directed by two graduates of the École Normale Supérieure: Émile Duclaux (general microbiology research) and Charles Chamberland (microbe research applied to hygiene), as well as a biologist, Élie Metchnikoff (morphological microbe research) and two physicians, Jacques-Joseph Grancher (rabies) and Émile Roux (technical microbe research). One year after the inauguration of the institute, Roux set up the first course of microbiology ever taught in the world, then entitled Cours de Microbie Technique (Course of microbe research techniques). Since 1891 the Pasteur Institute had been extended to different countries, and currently there are 32 institutes in 29 countries in various parts of the world.

Personal life

Louis Pasteur en 1857
Pasteur in 1857

Pasteur married Marie Pasteur (née Laurent) in 1849. She was the daughter of the rector of the University of Strasbourg, and was Pasteur's scientific assistant. They had five children together, three of whom died as children. Their eldest daughter, Jeanne, was born in 1850. She died from typhoid fever, aged 9, whilst at the boarding school Arbois in 1859. In 1865, 2-year-old Camille died of a liver tumour. Shortly after they decided to bring Cécile home from boarding school, but she too died of typhoid fever on 23 May 1866 at the age of 12. Only Jean Baptiste (b. 1851) and Marie Louise (b. 1858) survived to adulthood. Jean Baptiste would be a soldier in the Franco-Prussian War between France and Prussia.


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 28 September 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.

Interesting facts about Louis Pasteur

  • Louis Pasteur was dyslexic and dysgraphic.
  • 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 is regarded as one of the fathers of germ theory of diseases. His many experiments showed that diseases could be prevented by killing or stopping germs.


Pasteur's principal published works are:

French Title Year English Title
Etudes sur le Vin 1866 Studies on Wine
Etudes sur le Vinaigre 1868 Studies on Vinegar
Etudes sur la Maladie des Vers à Soie (2 volumes) 1870 Studies on Silk Worm Disease
Quelques Réflexions sur la Science en France 1871 Some Reflections on Science in France
Etudes sur la Bière 1876 Studies on Beer
Les Microbes organisés, leur rôle dans la Fermentation, la Putréfaction et la Contagion 1878 Microbes organized, their role in fermentation, putrefaction and the Contagion
Discours de Réception de M.L. Pasteur à l'Académie française 1882 Speech by Mr L. Pasteur on reception to the Académie française
Traitement de la Rage 1886 Treatment of Rabies

See also

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