Louis Pasteur

Pastor, the experimenter

The exhibition "Pasteur, the experimenter", presented from 12 December 2017 to 19 August 2018 at the Palais de la découverte, looks back at man and the work of the scientist; it seeks to explain the context of his work, his discoveries and their applications, beyond the legend. An exhibition that finds its full meaning at the Palais de la découverte which, since its opening in 1937, has had a room dedicated to Pasteur's work, developed under the direction of Louis Pasteur Vallery-Radot, his grandson. On this 80th anniversary of the Palais, Louis Pasteur is once again in the limelight, in a tour that is both chronological and thematic.
Few scholars have known the scientific and social success of Louis Pasteur, whose name is on many avenues, schools and scientific institutions, in France and abroad. It is this great figure that the Palais de la découverte is interested in today, by presenting the "Pasteur method", which characterizes contemporary scientific ingenuity. The Pasteur, the experimenter exhibition thus illustrates the great relevance of an original work, that of a man who could be called the father of modern science" Bruno Maquart, President of Universcience.
During his lifetime, Louis Pasteur became a myth, especially, but not only, because he defeated rabies, a deadly and spectacular disease. We owe him the pasteurization that bears his name, but also major advances in the fields of chemistry and microbiology. The exhibition Pasteur, the experimenter, presented from 12 December 2017 to 19 August 2018 at the Palais de la découverte, looks back at the man and the work of the scientist; it seeks to explain the context of his work, his discoveries and their applications, beyond the legend.

Scene: History of the rabies vaccine and founding of the Institut Pasteur 
After four years of work, in 1885, the nine-year-old Joseph Meister, who had been bitten several times by a rabid dog, came to Pasteur's laboratory accompanied by his mother. The decision to act must be taken quickly, before the disease broke out, before knowing if Joseph was really infected. Pasteur finally decides to inoculate the young boy with his vaccine. He survives. In the months that follow, many inoculations are carried out in Pasteur's laboratory. As soon as the first successes are known, the "fanatics" rush to the rue d'Ulm and requests for the vaccine flood in from all over the world. As early as 1886, Pasteur expressed his desire to create an independent establishment capable of meeting the growing demand for rabies vaccination. The Pasteur Institute was inaugurated on November 14, 1888 thanks to a national and international subscription.

There was a before and after Pasteur in the field of biology in general and more specifically in microbiology and vaccinology - the science of vaccines. The existence of microorganisms was then known but their role in the phenomena of life, such as fermentations, or phenomena of death, such as diseases, was still not understood. Disease was attributed to abnormal cell activity and contagion, its causes and modes were mysterious. Thanks to Louis Pasteur's research and that of his contemporaries, the populating of invisible territories by these microscopic actors takes on its full meaning. Pasteur convincingly highlights that microorganisms are responsible for infectious diseases, and that it is these, despite their size, that cause so much devastation. An idea that was particularly difficult to conceive at the end of the 19th century.
In collaboration with the Institut Pasteur and with the support of Sanofi Pasteur.
Accessible from the age of 9, the exhibition brings together films, interactive elements, reconstructions of scenes from the period, animated models and an optical theatre that tell the story of Louis Pasteur and his work. The theatrical reference is spun here, referring to the stagings orchestrated by Pasteur to disseminate his results, his public scientific demonstrations and his communications marked by a deliberately dramatic tension. Large velvet curtains, bleachers, a prologue, seven acts and an epilogue make up the scenography of this journey.



Prologue: Background and Origin


The first biographical information on Louis Pasteur, his childhood, his theses, his works are revealed in this prologue. As a counterpoint, the visitor is projected into the 19th century, its cultural and scientific history, its highlights and its great discoveries.
 ■ ACT 1: CRYSTALS AND ASYMMETRY (1847-1857) First part of Pasteur's work, the mystery of paratartaric acid. This very fundamental subject, contrary to the continuation of his research, will bring him a first fame. Confronted with two almost identical substances, he discovered the nature of their subtle difference: their respective molecules would be asymmetrical, each being like the image of the other in a mirror, like our hands. More broadly, he realizes that living organisms are also sensitive to this paradigm. And Pasteur concluded that this asymmetry is characteristic of living organisms. This is a fundamental aspect of modern biology.
■ ACT 2: FERMENTATIONS (1857-1876) The confirmation of the link between pathologies and micro-organisms has its origin in... the fermentation of beet juice. It was when Pasteur studied fermentation, wishing to solve the problems encountered at the time in the manufacture of alcohol, that he made the connection and demonstrated the causal relationship between microbes and diseases.
The most common conception of fermentation at the time was that it was a process of decomposition that imparted itself to the sugar and caused it to degrade. While digging into this subject, Pasteur discovered that each fermentation (alcoholic, acetic or lactic) was associated with a unique micro-organism. He also discovered that the alteration of organic products results from the action of these micro-organisms, hence the invention of pasteurization which eliminates them. These results revolutionized the food industry.
■ ACT 3: SPONTANEOUS GENERATION? (1859-1864) Spontaneous generation theory states that organisms appear spontaneously in cultures, making them impure. A virulent scientific controversy opposes Pasteur to Felix Pouchet, a fervent defender of this theory, with the Academy of Sciences agreeing with Pasteur in 1865. The consequences of a refutation of spontaneous generation are numerous, since they affect food preservation, hygiene and the understanding of infectious diseases. Pasteur showed a certain experimental genius.
■ ACT 4: SILKWORM DISEASES (1865-1869) Pebrine and flachery, two silkworm diseases, severely affect the French silkworm industry and are the first animal pathologies studied by Pasteur. At the request of his former teacher and friend Jean-Baptiste Dumas, a senator from the Gard region, he is studying this problem, developing and disseminating practical methods to achieve healthy breeding.
■ ACT 5: DISEASES AND VACCINES (1876-1895) Pasteur is undeniably known for the development of a vaccine against rabies, this spectacular and deadly disease. But it's been a long road to this discovery. Before tackling this disease affecting humans, he looked at cholera in chickens, but also anthrax, affecting cows and sheep. What methods did he put in place? What observation processes led to these advances? This section, probably the most eagerly awaited section of the exhibition, traces the scientific adventure that led to one of the most striking discoveries of the late 19th century.
■ ACT 6: THE SUCCESSORS (1885-1930) An audiovisual show recounts the major advances that have resulted from the activity of Pasteur and his collaborators from the very beginning, in France and around the world. From the end of the 1880s, some researchers from the Pasteur Institute were sent on international missions. The aim was threefold: to develop research on tropical diseases and infections and diseases familiar to the European continent, to train foreign scientists in new methods of prophylaxis and to make them available to populations. These missions lead to the creation of Pasteur Institutes in several countries around the world.
EPILOGUE: NEW VISIONS OF MICRO-ORGANISMS Some contemporary issues are similar to those Pasteur faced. What are the new methods for cultivating microorganisms or for observing them?
This epilogue discusses the subject of vaccination, its fundamentals and gives some current examples. A multimedia game and a film give an account of the ingenuity implemented in contemporary scientific research, the historical thread of this research.
A large dialogue drawn and projected by the illustrator Nayel Zeaiter completes the exhibition. The writer EriK Orsenna and the youtubeur Léo Grasset of the Dirty biology channel, discuss the scope of Pasteur's work.
Exhibition "Pasteur, the experimenter" - Palais de la découverte, Avenue Franklin Roosevelt - 75008 Paris
Open every day, except Monday, from 9:30 am to 6 pm, and Sunday from 10 am to 7 pm.
To go further:
– "Life, Death, Life - Louis Pasteur 1822-1895" by Erik Orsenna - Editions Fayard, 2017

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