You might take it for granted that E. coli bacteria aren't swimming around in your pasteurized milk, but the Louis Pasteur biography will give you a new appreciation for the man behind pasteurization, not to mention the way this French scientist worked. Like many good things, Pasteur's discoveries started with a bottle of wine.
Born on December 27, 1822, in Dole, France, Louis Pasteur might have pursued art instead of science. He showed talent as a child and even drew portraits of his college buddies later on. Lucky for mankind, Pasteur caught the science bug and by 1842, he completed a bachelor of science, earning honors in physics, math and Latin. He pursued a graduate degree in physics and chemistry and completed his doctorate in 1847.
Leave it to a Frenchman to change the entire course of human history by studying wine. Pasteur's interest in crystallography and tartaric acid led him straight to the bottle — not with a wine glass in hand, but a microscope. He ended a longstanding debate about how alcohol ferments, proving it couldn't happen without yeast. Prior to that, people believed sugar simply transformed into alcohol on its own, kind of like Jesus with water, but minus the miracle.
Of course, any good Frenchman — even a science geek — refuses to leave good taste to chance. Wine is a beautiful thing, but only if it's good wine — bad wine, not so much. Pasteur discovered the sour, unappetizing taste in bad wine came from unwelcome microorganisms. Even worse, those microorganisms can invade food, too, turning your creme fraiche into a cesspool of germy nastiness. Once Pasteur made the germ-bad food connection, he solved the problem with one simple process: heat to kill the germs. That's why your milk container proclaims on the label that it's "pasteurized" – a tip of the hat to the inventor who made your midnight milk-and-cookies snack as safe as it is delicious.
But Louis Pasteur didn't stop with beer and milk. He figured out that germs might cause diseases, too. He conducted experiments injecting poor, hapless chickens with chicken cholera. Some of the chickens got weaker doses followed by higher ones. The chickens who had received the weaker doses first did not get sick – voila, a vaccine for the deadly scourge. He later adopted the same process for anthrax and farmers rejoiced.
Even if you don't have a backyard chicken coop, you should thank Pasteur. Because of his work on the germ theory of disease, that scalpel your doctor uses is sterilized. Without Pasteur's discoveries, you would just have to take your chances with whatever bacteria happened to infect the blade first. If you have ever shared a hospital room with a sweaty, groaning, rash-covered roommate, you know why sparkling clean instruments matter.
The Pasteur biography is not just about science, though. Pasteur was a family man, enjoying a loving marriage to Marie Laurent. The couple had five children, but three of them died from typhoid fever, perhaps spurring him to save others through science. He died in 1895 from a series of strokes, but as the Pasteur biography shows, his legacy lives on in every safe glass of milk, every cholera-free chicken and every clean scalpel.