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Chamberland, Charles Edouard

Chamberland, Charles Edouard

b. Chilly le Vignoble, Jura, France, 12 March 1851; d. Paris, France, 2 May 1908),


One of Pasteur’s most famous associates, Chamberland was later to become an expert himself, enriching the techniques of bacteriology with important apparatus as well as setting down useful rules for public health.

After studying the classics at the lycée in Lons-le-Saunier and a period at the Collège Rollin in Paris, Chamberland was admitted in 1871 to both the École Polytechnique and the École Normale Supérieure. He chose the latter and was appointed professor at the lycée of Nímes in 1874. A year later he returned to the École Normale and remained there until 1888, first as an assistant in Pasteur’s laboratory and then as one of the laboratory’s assistant directors. In 1885 he was elected a deputy from the Jura.

As soon as Chamberland returned to Paris in 1875, the controversy between Pasteur and Bastian concerning spontaneous generation erupted. Pasteur asked his new assistant to investigate the causes of error in Bastian’s experiments. Soon afterward Chamberland was able to explain why acid organic liquids heated to 100°C. could be preserved without changing, even though they were full of microbes, when enough sterile potassium was added to make them alkaline. He also showed that in order to kill certain spores it is first necessary to heat the liquid to a temperature of 115°C. for twenty minutes. This important observation led him to perfect both rules and new methods for the sterilization of culture media. His work resulted in the autoclave, which soon became an indispensable tool in bacteriology departments, hospitals, and disinfection stations.

Next Chamberland showed how porous walls are capable of retaining fine particles in suspension and substituted for the filtration process then in use the slightly warmed porcelain filter. In doing so he set forth an excellent sterilization procedure for liquids that could be changed by heat. The filter, which was of immediate use in laboratories, a few years later facilitated the discovery of microbic exotoxins and the first viruses. Because it made possible the purification of drinking water, it was of great value to public health.

While at the École Normale, Chamberland participated in Pasteur’s studies: the attenuation of viruses and preventive inoculations, the etiology and prophylaxis of anthrax, and vaccination against hog cholera and rabies. In 1888, when the Pasteur Institute was opened in Paris, he became director of one of the six departments created at that time: that of microbiology applied to hygiene; one of its main functions was to prepare, on a large scale, various Pasteur vaccines. Chamberland headed the department until his death (from 1904 he was also assistant director of the Pasteur Institute and a member of the Academy of Medicine).

On the rue Dutot he studied the possibilities of disinfecting places and objects with compounds containing chlorine (with E. Fernbach) and the antiseptic properties of essences and hydrogen peroxide. His studies with Jouan on microbes of the Pasteurella type have remained classic. Chamberland thought that the atmosphere did not play the main role in transmitting infectious germs. He hoped that there would be more concern with soiled objects, clothing, and the hands of doctors and their assistants.

Chamberland’s common sense and creative mind have often been emphasized. Calmette said of him: “He was a master of his trade and a friend full of charming good humor, with extraordinary kindness and exceptionally penetrating intelligence. His premature death—he was only fifty-seven years old— was a grievous loss to the Institute.” He was tall and slender, with handsome features. He was married and had one child.


Various papers by Chamberland appeared in the Bulletin de l’Académie de médecine, the Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l’Académie des sciences, and the Annales de l’Institut Pasteur between 1878 and 1908, Among them are “La théorie des germes et ses applications à la médećine et à la chirurgie,” in Bulletin de l’Académie de médecine, 2nd ser., 7 (1878), 432, written with Pasteur and Joubert; and “Recherches sur l’origine et le développement des organismes microscopiques,” Annales scientifiques de l’École normale supérieure, 2nd ser., 7

A notice on Chamberland’s life and work is in Annales de l’Institut Pasteur, 22 (1908), 369.

Albert Delaunay

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