Lending your name... Science

Pasteur and Pasteurisation

Chemist Louis Pasteur France at work. Photo: Wikimedia Commons  

In science and technology, as in any other field, one of the greatest possible rewards for anyone working on something is to get their work named after them. In that way, your name stays on long after even you have left this world.

Take John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton for instance. Neither of them is now alive but their Cockcroft-Walton multiplier and the fact that they were the first to split the atom under controlled conditions stay on. Charles Martin Hall and the Hall-Heroult process of isolating pure aluminium. Or Alfred Nobel and Nobel Prizes. The list goes on and on… In this week’s ‘An eye for an i’, we will look at Louis Pasteur and the process named after him.

Born in Dole, France on December 22, 1827, Pasteur wasn’t the typical bright kid that we get with most of these stories. More interested in fishing and drawing, studies were secondary for him. With time, however, Pasteur grew in the academic circles, to the point that soon he went on to become a prominent force.

During the 1850s, it was still believed that fermentation was a purely chemical process. It was Pasteur’s research that led him to the discovery that it was a living organism, yeast, which was responsible for the conversion of beet juice into alcohol. When the alcohol spoiled, however, it contained a different microbe.

These discoveries eventually led Pasteur to his germ theory of fermentation, but that would have to wait for another day. Right now though, we’ll focus on the fact that Emperor Napoleon III called upon Pasteur to save France’s wine industry. Nicolas Appert, through his process of canning, had already shown that food preservation was possible by treating it with heat. Pasteur’s contribution involved determining the exact time and temperature at which heating should take place, to kill the microorganisms without significantly altering the chemical composition of the original material. The liquid which was boiled is then cooled to a specific temperature.

On April 20, 1862, jars containing dog’s blood and urine, which were sealed since March, were opened at a meeting of the French Academy of Sciences. Neither liquid showed any significant decay or fermentation, denoting the completion of the first test of pasteurisation.

The process was patented, called pasteurisation and was first employed for beer and vinegar. Pasteurisation of milk didn’t happen till the 1880s. When it did finally start reaching out to the masses, it not only prevented many diseases but also meant that milk could be consumed less immediately than what was usual.

Apart from his germ theory of fermentation and discovery of pasteurisation, Pasteur was best known for his involvement in the development of vaccines for rabies. If ever you step out to buy pasteurised milk for your house, make sure that you let it be known that you know a little bit about Pasteur, the man behind the process.

Write to A.S. Ganesh at ganesh.a.s@thehindu.co.in

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Printable version | Sep 11, 2021 6:39:25 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/in-school/sh-science/pasteur-and-pasteurisation/article7119218.ece

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