By Harry Fawcett Buckley
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Extra resources for A short history of physics,
Working on the assumption that the quantity of micro-organisms in air varies in accordance with the density of organic matter in the immediate environment, he had spent the previous weeks exposing pre-sterilized flasks of boiled, sugared yeast-water at various altitudes and locations: those carried up to the glacier were the final set. As with the others, having been exposed the flasks were resealed and removed to a stove held at temperatures ordinarily conducive to the growth of micro-organisms.
Against this backdrop, Pasteur’s experiments fed a profound yearning for the conclusive, the fair, and the disinterested—qualities so tragically absent from the spheres of politics and religion. The net effect was that by the end of this pivotal lecture, Pasteur had brilliantly established a consensus view. Addressing his rapturous audience, he slipped into metaphysics. By depriving the sugary yeast-water of germs from the air, he explained, ‘I have removed from it the only thing that it has not been given to man to produce .
Confirming Pasteur’s expectations, the less microbe-rich a flask’s point of exposure, the less likely its contents were to undergo fermentation. High up on the Mer de Glace, oxygen alone had not been enough to induce fermentation. Pouchet received another well-publicized humiliation. Still Pouchet and his supporters remained unrepentant. They simply responded that by overheating the sugary yeast-water solutions used on the Mer de Glace Pasteur had destroyed the ‘vegetative forces’ needed to create new life.