Robert Koch was born in the small town of Clausthal, Germany. He taught himself to read and write, and at school he achieved excellent results in mathematics.
At the age of 19, Koch entered the University of Göttingen to study natural sciences, but after two semesters, he decided to embrace medicine. During his studies he began to collaborate with the distinguished specialist in anatomy Jacob Henle who launched the theory of contagion, according to which wounds are infected by microbes. Already in the sixth semester, Koch was coordinating research at the University’s Institute of Physiology. The fact that he graduated from the university with the highest distinction already seems self-evident.
In the years 1872-1880 he was an officer of the Wollstein Medical District; during this period he takes the first steps in the development of scientific research on the organisms that cause infections. Anthrax at that time was very widespread in the district of Wollstein, and Koch without any financial or scientific help aims to discover as much as possible about this scourge. The laboratory was his home, as equipment he had a microscope given by his wife, and the instruments were procured by himself. The anthrax bacillus was discovered by Pollender, Rayer and Davaine, but Koch aims to prove that this bacillus is actually the agent that produces the disease. For this purpose, he inoculates mice with extracts from the spleen of sick animals, and finds that they die, while the mice in the group injected with extracts from healthy animals live. The experiment confirms a fact that was suspected, namely that the blood of infected animals is able to transfer the disease to healthy animals. Koch is not satisfied with this result and goes further, demonstrating that bacilli retain their virulence even in the absence of any animal organism.
Koch established the bacterial cause of several infectious diseases and discovered the microorganisms that cause anthrax (1876), wound infection (1878), tuberculosis (1882), conjunctivitis (1883), cholera (1884) and other diseases. He was a professor at the University of Berlin from 1885 to 1891 and head of the Institute of Infectious Diseases (which he also founded) from 1891 to 1904. In the course of his bacteriological research for the German and English governments, he traveled to South Africa, India, Egypt and other countries. On this occasion, he made valuable studies on sleeping sickness, malaria, bubonic plague, leprosy and other diseases. For his contributions to the study of tuberculosis infection, Koch received in 1905 the Nobel Prize for Physiology/Medicine.
Discover presents the main historical meanings of December 11:
1792 – The composer Joseph Mohr, author of the famous carol “Stille Nacht, heillige Nacht” was born (d. December 5, 1848).
1803 – Hector Louis Berlioz, composer, conductor and music theorist (“Romeo and Juliet” symphony, “Fantastic Symphony”) was born (d. March 8, 1869)
1810 – Alfred de Musset, poet, prose writer and dramatist, was born (the cycle of lyrical poems “Nights” and “Memories” (d. May 2, 1857)
1882 – Max Born, physicist, was born. He received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1954; made contributions to quantum mechanics (d. January 5, 1970)
1888 – Eugen Goga, prose writer, Octavian Goga’s brother, was born (d. June 5, 1935)
1908 – Composer Eduard Wachmann, first conductor and director of the Romanian Philharmonic (1868-1906) passed away (vaudevilles, vocal-symphonic, choral, chamber, vocal music; folklore collections and didactic works) (b. February 10, 1836)
1911 – Nagub Mahfouz was born, writer, laureate of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988, the first writer of Arab nationality laureate of this prize; the awarding of this distinction was contested by the Arabs, who accused him of exclusive treatment of Egypt’s problems; on October 14, 1994, the writer was the target of an attack by Islamic fundamentalists, which he barely survived.
1913 – The jurist and publicist Ion Kalinderu, art collector, member, vice-president and president of the Romanian Academy passed away (b. December 28, 1840)
1913 – The actor Jean Marais (real name Jean Marais-Villain), star of the French cinema (the films “White Nights”, the series “Fantomas”, “Seven Boys and a String”) was born (d. November 8, 1998)
1913 – Carlo Ponti, film director, well-known producer, husband of actress Sophia Loren (“Dr. Zhivago”, “Claretta and Ben”) was born
1918 – The writer Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn was born, laureate of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970 (“The Gulag Archipelago”, “The Cancer Pavilion”)
1946 – The United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, was created, with headquarters in New York
1992 – The first stock trading took place at the Romanian Stock Exchange.
1993 – Elvira Popescu, theater and film actress, passed away in Paris. Established in France in 1924, she played on stage roles specially created for her by theater people such as Jean Cocteau, Maurice Druon, Sacha Guitry. In 1989, the French president, Francois Mitterand, awarded him the title of Commander of the Legion of Honor (b. May 10, 1896).
1997 – The linguist Ion Coteanu died (b. October 6, 1920)
2001 – Cornel Radu Constantinescu, art critic and journalist, author of monographs on Romanian plastic artists and co-author of reference works on Romanian art, passed away (b. December 23, 1938)
2002 – The North Korean ship “So San” was intercepted off the Yemeni coast by a Spanish and an American warship. 13 SCUD missiles and 15 high-powered conventional warheads destined for Yemen were discovered on board the ship.