Lazzaro Spallanzani

Italian Catholic priest, biologist, and physiologist


Spallanzani was born on January 12, 1729 in Scandiano, Italy and died on February 11, 1799. He initially studied law at the University of Bologna, but his cousin, Laura Bassi, introduced him to other scientific studies. In 1754 he changed his educational course and got a Ph. D. in philosophy. He then joined the priesthood to help him as studied a natural phenomena. He was the first to disprove spontaneous generation, and he proved that microorganisms could be killed by boiling.

Contributions/ Experiments

Spallanzani's greatest contribution was in the area of spontaneous generation of microorganisms. Also, in 1765 he wanted to prove that microorganisms existed because they were already present in some form in the solution, the container, or the air. Proponents of the spontaneous generation rejected the experiment. A century later, Louis Pasteur's experiment on bacteria proved Spallanzani correct.

Then in 1771 he studied the circulatory system with a hens egg. He looked at the system of blood vessels and concluded that arteriovenous network existed in a warm-blooded animal. With the information about the circulatory system he then went on to study changed that occur nearing death and what wounds do to a certain part of the system. Creating the theory of blood pressure, he found out that the pulse was not due to a malfunction in the cardiac muscle, but an intentional push of blood against the vascular wall.

His next project began with the fertilization of eggs. He began with frogs and toads, but by 1785 he had gone onto dogs where he had his fist case of artificial insemination. His curiosity of natural phenomena brought him to his studies of volcanoes. He climbed within five feet of hot lava to measure the flow. He suffered many burns and on one expedition he became unconscious from the gases, but his studies earned him the status as a pioneer in the volcanology.

Finally, his studied took him to the world of bats. He was amazed at the fact that they could move without light. He went through the senses to discover how they did it, and found that plugging their ears left them directionless. While he did accept the theory of echolocation, Donald R. Griffin did not explain that bats were sensitive to sound waves until 1941.

Pictures of his Experiments

University of Bologna

This is the institution where Spallanzani studied.

Works Cited

  • "Lazzaro Spallanzani." Merriam Webster's Biographical Dictionary. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1995. Biography in Context. Web. 11 Jan. 2016
  • "Lazzaro Spallanzani." World of Health. Gale, 2007. Biography in Context. Web. 11 Jan. 2016.