Louis Pasteur

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and work of Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) and his extraordinary contribution to medicine and science. It is said few people have saved more lives than Pasteur. A chemist, he showed that otherwise identical molecules could exist as ‘left’ and ‘right-handed’ versions and that molecules produced by living things were always left-handed. He proposed a germ theory to replace the idea of spontaneous generation. He discovered that microorganisms cause fermentation and disease. He began the process named after him, pasteurisation, heating liquids to 50-60 C to kill microbes. He saved the beer and wine industries in France when they were struggling with microbial contamination. He saved the French silk industry when he found a way of protecting healthy silkworm eggs from disease. He developed vaccines against anthrax and rabies and helped establish immunology. Many of his ideas were developed further after his lifetime, but one of his legacies was a charitable body, the Pasteur Institute, to continue research into infectious disease.

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  • Andrew Mendelsohn 3 episodes
    Reader in the School of History at Queen Mary, University of London
  • Anne Hardy 4 episodes
    Honorary Professor at the Centre for History in Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
  • Michael Worboys No other episodes
    Emeritus Professor in the History of Science, Technology and Medicine at the University of Manchester

Reading list

  • Science and Industry in the Nineteenth Century
    J. D. Bernal (Routledge, 2005) Google Books →
  • Louis Pasteur
    Patrice Debre (trans. Elborg Forster) (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998) Google Books →
  • Pasteur and Modern Science
    Rene Dubos (Science Tech Publishers, 1988) Google Books →
  • Louis Pasteur: Free Lance of Science
    Rene Dubos (Perseus Books Group, 1986) Google Books →
  • Pasteur: History of a Mind
    Emile Duclaux (Cornell University Library, 2009)
  • The Private Science of Louis Pasteur
    Gerald L. Geison (Princeton University Press, 1995) Google Books →
  • The Pasteurization of France
    Bruno Latour (trans. Alan Sheridan and John Law) (Harvard University Press, 1988) Google Books →
  • Heredity Explored: Between Public Domain and Experimental Science, 1850-1930
    Staffan Muller-Wille and Christina Brandt (ed.) (MIT Press, 2016) Google Books →
  • Louis Pasteur and the Hidden World of Microbes
    Louise Robbins (Oxford Portraits in Science, 2001) Google Books →
  • The Scientists: An Epic of Discovery
    Andrew Robinson (ed.) (Thames and Hudson, 2012) Google Books →
  • Pasteur's Quadrant: Basic Science and Technological Innovation
    Donald Stokes (Brookings Institution Press, 1998) Google Books →
  • The Life of Pasteur
    Rene Vallery-Radot (Palala Press, 2016) Google Books →

Related episodes

Programme ID: b08q317p

Episode page: bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08q317p

Auto-category: 610.92 (Biographies of medical scientists)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello, Louis Pasteur, born in France in 1822, was one of the great scientists of the 19th century and his work still has a profound impact on our lives today.