Sir Joseph Lister is famous for being the founder of antiseptic surgery. In 1865, some time after Louis Pasteur discovered that bacteria cause fermentation, Lister discovered that germs were also the cause of pus and infection.
Lister's discovery caused him to use carbolic acid spray in operating theaters and soak bandages in carbolic acid to cut down on infections. He realized that the germs were also on the hands of the surgeons as well as their instruments, which led him to direct surgeons to wash their hands before operations and sterilize their instruments. Lister also introduced the use of catgut ligatures.
Lister's discoveries revolutionized medicine. Mortality after surgery plummeted from as much as 45 percent to about 15 percent. Lister's antiseptic methods made it possible for surgeons to perform extensive operations like abdominal surgery and head surgery without a high patient mortality.
Lister was born in Upton, Essex, England, in 1827 and was a professor of surgery at Glasgow University between 1860 and 1869. He also taught at Edinburgh University and King's College, London. He was made a baronet in 1883, and in 1897, he was elevated to the peerage as Baron Lister of Lyme Regis. The bacteria Listeria is named after him.