Louis Pasteur, one of the giants of modern science, was a French chemist and microbiologist. Along with Ferdinand Cohn and Robert Koch, he is the main founder of bacteriology and is also known as “the father of microbiology”.
His legacy is felt every day in the modern world thanks to his outstanding breakthroughs in medicine. Pasteur’s germ theory gave us an understanding of sterile techniques and of the importance of antisepsis within medicine. Because of his research, we now know that carefully washing hands is absolutely required to avoid getting sick or transmitting a disease to other people. He was the first to develop vaccines for rabies and anthrax. His is widely known for the process called pasteurization (named in his honor) where liquids are heated and quickly cooled thereby getting rid of bacteria and microorganisms. He also made significant discoveries in chemistry about the molecular basis for the asymmetry and racemization. In the contest sponsored by the French Academy of Sciences in 1859 for the best experiment either proving or disproving spontaneous generation, Pasteur simultaneously refuted the theory of spontaneous generation and convincingly demonstrated the theory of biogenesis (Omne vivum ex vivo, “all life from life”).
Like many other people, Pasteur was not very delighted in solving problems of mathematics. He used to say, “Nothing dries up the heart so much as the study of mathematics.” On the other hand, he was extremely happy to spend sleepless nights working in the laboratory. While the laboratory became, and remained, Pasteur’s greatest love and favorite place to be, hard work and perseverance were the foundation for his success. He said it was “through assiduous work, with no special gift but that of perseverance joined to an attraction towards all that is great and good,” that he had met with success in his researches.
Pasteur’s life not only sets an example of a man of science but also of a man of faith and belief. He wrote, “This is not to be taken to mean that, in my beliefs and in the conduct of my life, I only take account of acquired science: if I would, I could not do so, for I should then have to strip myself of a part of myself. There are two men in each one of us: the scientist, he who starts with a clear field and desires to rise to the knowledge of Nature through observation, experimentation and reasoning, and the man of sentiment, the man of belief, … who feels that the force that is within him cannot die. The two domains are distinct, and woe to him who tries to let them trespass on each other in the so imperfect state of human knowledge.”
This great scientist set a fine example of intellectual humility; he bowed down to the Supreme divine whose infinite imprints are reflected in the manifested universe. He remarked, “… I see everywhere the inevitable expression of the Infinite in the world… The idea of God is a form of the idea of the Infinite. As long as the mystery of the Infinite weighs on human thought, temples will be erected for the worship of the Infinite, whether God is called Brahma, Allah, Jehovah, or Jesus; and on the pavement of those temples, men will be seen kneeling, prostrated, annihilated in the thought of the Infinite.”
Thus his life and works are a source of inspiration for the harmony between science and faith. In his own concluding words, “The more I study nature, the more I stand amazed at the work of the Creator. Science brings men nearer to God.”