Louis Pasteur

Born: 27 December 1822
Death: 28 September 1895
Dole, Jura, France

The next time you're enjoying a cold glass of milk with your chocolate chip cookies, thank Louis Pasteur for making the milk safe to drink.

While you're at it, you can also thank him that you don't have smallpox, chickenpox, rabies, or diphtheria. Those diseases may be rare now, but they were very much part of life in 18th and 19th Century Europe. That was before Pasteur made tremendous discoveries in the fields of germ biology and immunology.

Pasteur, a French Chemist, is best known as the father of pasteurization. That's the method of heating liquids until germs can no longer live in them. Look on the label of your milk carton and chances are it will say "pasteurized."

Born in 1822 in Dole, France, Pasteur was a talented young artist. He could very well have succeeded in that field, but he also showed an interest in chemistry.

While pasteurization bears his name, his most important discovery could be that infections diseases are caused by germs.  Pasteur was able to control the spread of disease by limiting the places where germs can live.

He also developed the theory that injecting a person with a weakened form of a disease, such as smallpox, would make that person immune from catching the disease.

"Vaccination" is the name of this technique that has been used for decades to help control outbreaks of diseases such as smallpox, chickenpox, cholera, diphtheria, anthrax and rabies.

In many ways, Pasteur was before his time. His recommendation that hospitals boil their surgical tools went ignored until the 20th century. That's when surgeons recognized the need to control germs in the operating room.

Pasteur studied at Besançon and Paris universities, and held academic posts at Strasbourg, Lille, and Paris, where in 1867 he became professor of chemistry at the Sorbonne. 

Pasteur's discoveries were so groundbreaking that in 1888 an international fund was created to fund the Louis Pasteur Institute. Pasteur worked with the institute until his death. It continues today as a center of microbiology and immunology.

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