Scientific Breakthroughs Marked the Career of Louis Pasteur

by Adaeze Okoli, age 15

Louis Pasteur Louis Pasteur was the founder of stereochemistry, the savior of the silk industry of south France, and the developer of pasteurization. He was a man whose scientific genius led to many discoveries in science.

Louis Pasteur was born in 1822 in Dole, Bourgogne, France. Young Pasteur was a skilled artist and could have had a successful career as a painter. However, as he got older, his interest turned to science.

At age 21, Pasteur enrolled in Ecole Normale Superieur to become a science teacher. After graduation, Pasteur wrote an incredible paper on a tartaric acid, the acid formed when grapes ferment. He submitted his paper to the Academy of Sciences, where he was given the Legion d’honneur, a French merit, and a gold medal from the English Royal Society. Because of this honor he was made Professor of Chemistry at the University of Strasbourg.

Pasteur’s first major discovery was with yeast. He found that wine and other alcoholic drinks had microbes called yeast. All drinks have two kinds of yeast, helpful and harmful. In alcohol, the helpful yeast makes it flavorful and the harmful yeast makes it spoil.

After this discovery he took it one step further: finding a solution. Pasteur figured in order to kill the harmful yeast he should heat the wine. He found that heating the wine to 140 degrees Fahrenheit killed the harmful yeast without damaging the helpful yeast. Today this process is called pasteurization in Pasteur’s honor. It is now used as a safer way to make wine, beer, milk, and fruit juices.

With more studying, Pasteur found that microbes did not appear out of thin air or from stale water as had been previously thought. Microbes are found in the air. Pasteur conducted an experiment to prove this. He showed that food goes bad because of the microbes in the air. His experiment was tested both at sea level and in the Swiss Alps. His results showed that the food went bad more quickly at sea level and more slowly in Swiss Alps. The food took longer to go bad in the Alps because the air there is thinner, meaning there are fewer microbes.

Pasteur was very well known throughout France and had developed a good reputation as a trust-worthy scientist. Because of this, he was asked by the French government to help save the silk industry of Southern France. Pasteur’s role was to investigate a disease that was killing the silkworms. Although he did not know much about silkworms, he still offered to help. He advised the silk-makers to burn all the affected trees and silkworms. It was a bit drastic, but that was exactly what the silk industry needed.

In the last few years of his life Pasteur discovered inoculation. He wanted to know how to save sheep from anthrax. Pasteur found that the sheep and other livestock that did survive anthrax became immune.

So Pasteur decided to give healthy sheep a weakened version of anthrax. By doing this, the sheep’s immune system learned how to fight off the disease. This protected them from future outbreaks. Inoculation worked so well Pasteur and other scientists did the same thing for chicken cholera and rabies. The strategy of inoculation soon became a major part of modern medicine.

On September 28, 1895 Louis Pasteur died. He died with the words “One must work; one must work. I have done what I could.”

Louis Pasteur was a hardworking man whose major contributions to the world of science are still with us today.

[Source: The Great Scientists]