Who is Louis Pasteur? - Biography, Quotes & Timeline

Instructor: Deanna Reid

Deanna has taught at the elementary and middle school level and has a Master's degree in Elementary Education K-8.

Louis Pasteur was a chemist, humanist, and scientist - and even an artist! Learn about some of Pasteur's discoveries, which became vital to our modern life, and see a timeline of some of the major events in his own life.

Who was Louis Pasteur?

Louis Pasteur
Louis Pasteur

Louis Pasteur had a natural curiosity about science and medicine. This curiosity caused him to spend most of his life performing medical research and proving his theory that microscopic germs existed. He contributed greatly to the study of microbiology, medicine, technology, and science.

Scientific Discoveries and Life of Louis Pasteur

Louis Pasteur was born on December 7, 1822, in Doles, France, as the only son of a tanner. Pasteur was a gifted artist; however, his father did not want him to follow this pursuit, causing him to stop painting at the age of nineteen.

Pasteur's father did not receive a formal education, and his ambition for Pasteur was for him to have a university education in the hope that he would become a professor at the local college in Arbois. In his early years of education, Pasteur was an average pupil. Even when taking his exams to gain entrance to the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris, he didn't do as well as he had hoped the first time. He then spent the next year vigilantly studying and took the exam once again. This second attempt was successful, and once admitted, he earned both his master's and doctoral degrees in chemistry.

Ecole Normale Superieure
Ecole Normale Superieure

At Ecole Normale Superieure, Pasteur worked as a teaching and laboratory assistant. While working in the laboratory, he made his first significant discovery. While studying polarized light and crystals, he determined that organic molecules are asymmetric. This finding gave scientists a new criteria for determining whether or not a substance is organic.

Pasteur left Ecole Normale in 1848 to accept a position at the University of Strasbourg in the chemistry department, where he continued his research in the asymmetry of molecules. While at the University, he met his future wife, Marie Laurent. They married in 1849 and had five children. However, three of the children died after contracting typhoid. Only two children would live to adulthood. The loss of three children to typhoid would serve as motivation for Pasteur to research diseases and their cures in the future.

In 1854, Pasteur left the University of Strasbourg to become the Dean of Science and serve as a chemistry professor at the University of Lille. At Lille, he was asked by a local distiller to help with alcohol fermentation problems. He discovered that heating the alcohol helped to keep it from forming lactic acid and solved the fermentation issues.

He returned to Paris in 1857 to Ecole Normale Superieure and served as the director of scientific studies. While continuing his fermentation research, he made another important discovery: that heating a substance for an extended period of time would kill microorganisms. This process became known as pasteurization. At this time, he was also asked by the Ministry of Agriculture in France to investigate silkworm diseases. While performing this research, he became focused on germs and infectious disease.

The next step in his career was to work as a chemistry professor at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1867. He suffered a stroke in 1868 which left him partially paralyzed, but his research continued. The rest of his lifetime was spent learning about infectious disease and developing vaccines to cure diseases such as rabies and anthrax.

And whatever happened to Pasteur, the artist? Much later, Pasteur's artwork was listed in two 19th-century compendia of art and was displayed at the Pasteur Institute of Paris, which was named for him in 1887 and for which he acted as director until his death.

Pasteur Injecting the Rabies Vaccine into a Rabbit
Louis Pasteur injecting rabies vaccine into a rabbit

Pasteur died on September 28, 1895, due to several strokes that his ailing body couldn't withstand. He was given the burial of a national hero in the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris. The funeral was attended by thousands of people honoring his legendary status in Parisian society.

Famous Quotes from Louis Pasteur

Pasteur once said, 'In the fields of observation, chance favors only the prepared mind', demonstrating that a scientist must be prepared at all times for unexpected events. When conducting an experiment, chance is only significant if you are observant and are ready for any unexpected event.

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