In November 2002, the American Chemical Society invited its members to vote for the “Ten Most Beautiful Experiments in the History of Chemistry.” The results of this selection were published on August 25, 2003, in the magazine “Chemical & Engineering News” . Ranked second on the list was Antoine Lavoisier, the father of modern chemistry, for his research on the nature of combustion as an oxidation process in 1775. The experiment that topped the list was the “Separation of Optical Isomers of Tartaric Acid Salts,” discovered by Louis Pasteur.
Yes, that’s Louis Pasteur, later known as the “Father of Microbiology.” Before entering the field of life sciences, Pasteur was a chemist. He was only 26 years old when he conducted the experiment on the separation of optical isomers of tartaric acid salts.
In 1842, at the age of 20, Pasteur passed the entrance exam for the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, ranking 16th. However, driven by his ambition, he declined the opportunity to enroll because he felt his ranking was not satisfactory. The following year, he applied again to the same school and finally succeeded, being admitted in 4th place.
At the École Normale Supérieure, Pasteur had the privilege of studying under the renowned chemist Jean-Baptiste Dumas. He was deeply impressed by Dumas’s scholarly temperament and excellent oratory skills, which sparked his fascination with chemistry and his aspiration to become a distinguished scholar like Dumas.
Paris, France, is the birthplace of modern chemistry and the center of global chemistry for over half a century. It has produced generation after generation of master chemists. If we consider Lavoisier and his contemporaries, such as Claude Berthollet, as the first generation of French chemists, then Joseph Gay-Lussac, a student of Berthollet, and Jean-Baptiste Biot, who conducted scientific research together with Gay-Lussac at an altitude of 5,000 meters in a balloon in 1804, represent the second generation of French chemists. Dumas, who studied under Gay-Lussac and later succeeded him in his professorship, stands out as a prominent figure among the third generation of French chemists.