SPALLANZANI, LAZARO (1720-1799), Italian man of science, was born at Scandiano in Modena on the loth of January 1729, and was at first educated by his father, who was an advocate. At the age of fifteen he was sent to the Jesuit college at Reggio di Modena, and was pressed to enter that body. He went, however, to the university of Bologna, where his famous kinswoman, Laura Bassi, was professor of physics, and it is to her influence that his scientific impulse has been usually attributed. With her he studied natural philosophy and mathematics, and gave also great attention to languages, both ancient and modern, but soon abandoned the study of law, and afterwards took orders. His reputation soon widened, and in 1754 he became professor of logic, metaphysics and Greek in the university of Reggio, and in 1760 was translated to Modena, where he continued to teach with great assiduity and success, but devoted his whole leisure to natural science. He declined many offers from other Italian universities and from St Petersburg until 1768, when he accepted the invitation of Maria Theresa to the chair of natural history in the university of Pavia, which was then being reorganized. He also became director of the museum, which he greatly enriched by the collections of his many journeys along the shores of the Mediterranean. In 1785 he was invited to Padua, but to retain his services his sovereign doubled his salary and allowed him leave of absence for a visit to Turkey, where he remained nearly a year, and made many observations, among which may be noted those of a copper mine in Chalki and of an iron mine at Principi. His return home was almost a triumphal progress: at Vienna he was cordially received by Joseph II., and on reaching Pavia he was met with acclamations outside the city gates by the students of the university. During the following year his students exceeded five hundred. His integrity in the management of the museum was called in question, but a judicial investigation speedily cleared his honour, to the satisfaction even of his accusers. In 1788 he visited Vesuvius and the volcanoes of the Lipari Islands and Sicily, and embodied the results of his researches in a large work (Viaggi alle due Sicilie ed in alcune parti dell' Apennino), published four years later. He died from an apoplectic seizure on the 12th of February 1799, at Pavia.
His indefatigable exertions as a traveller, his skill and good fortune as a collector, his brilliance as a teacher and expositor, and his keenness as a controversialist no doubt aid largely in accounting for Spallanzani's exceptional fame among his contemporaries; yet greater qualities were by no means lacking. His life was one of incessant eager questioning of nature on all sides, and his many and varied works all bear the stamp of a fresh and original genius, capable of stating and solving problems in all departments of science at one time finding the true explanation of " ducks and drakes " (formerly attributed to the elasticity of water) and at another helping to lay the foundations of our modern vulcanology and meteorology. His main discoveries, however, were in the field of physiology : he wrote valuable and suggestive papers on respiration, on the senses of bats, etc., while he made experiments (1768) to disprove the occurrence of spontaneous generation, showing in opposition to J. H. Needham (1713-1781) that animalcules did not develop in vegetable infusions which had been boiled and were kept in properly closed vessels. His great work, however, is the Dissertationi de fisica animale e vegetale (2 vols., 1780). Here he first interpreted the process of digestion, which he proved to be no mere mechanical process of trituration, but one of actual solution, taking place primarily in the stomach, by the action of the gastric juice. He also carried out important researches on fertilization in animals (1780).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)