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Ira Remsen

Ira Remsen

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Ira Remsen was a chemist
Chemistry
Chemistry is the science of matter, especially its chemical reactions, but also its composition, structure and properties. Chemistry is concerned with atoms and their interactions with other atoms, and particularly with the properties of chemical bonds....

 who, along with Constantin Fahlberg
Constantin Fahlberg
Constantin Fahlberg ) discovered the sweet taste of anhydroorthosulphaminebenzoic acid in 1877/78 when analysing the chemical compounds in coal tar at Johns Hopkins University for Professor Ira Remsen...

, discovered the artificial sweetener saccharin
Saccharin
Saccharin is an artificial sweetener. The basic substance, benzoic sulfilimine, has effectively no food energy and is much sweeter than sucrose, but has a bitter or metallic aftertaste, especially at high concentrations...

. He was the second president of Johns Hopkins University
Johns Hopkins University
The Johns Hopkins University, commonly referred to as Johns Hopkins, JHU, or simply Hopkins, is a private research university based in Baltimore, Maryland, United States...

.

Biography


Remsen was born in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 and earned an M.D. from the College of Physicians and Surgeons
Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons
Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, often known as P&S, is a graduate school of Columbia University that is located on the health sciences campus in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan...

 in 1867 to please his parents. He then traveled to Germany
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 to study chemistry - his true passion. He earned a Ph.D. from University of Göttingen
Georg-August University of Göttingen
The University of Göttingen , known informally as Georgia Augusta, is a university in the city of Göttingen, Germany.Founded in 1734 by King George II of Great Britain and the Elector of Hanover, it opened for classes in 1737. The University of Göttingen soon grew in size and popularity...

 in 1870. In 1875, after researching pure chemistry at University of Tübingen
Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen
Eberhard Karls University, Tübingen is a public university located in the city of Tübingen, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. It is one of Germany's oldest universities, internationally noted in medicine, natural sciences and the humanities. In the area of German Studies it has been ranked first among...

, Remsen returned to the United States and became a professor at Williams College
Williams College
Williams College is a private liberal arts college located in Williamstown, Massachusetts, United States. It was established in 1793 with funds from the estate of Ephraim Williams. Originally a men's college, Williams became co-educational in 1970. Fraternities were also phased out during this...

, where he wrote the popular "Theoretical Chemistry". His book and reputation brought him to the attention of Daniel Coit Gilman
Daniel Coit Gilman
Daniel Coit Gilman was an American educator and academician, who was instrumental in founding the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale College, and who subsequently served as one of the earliest presidents of the University of California, the first president of Johns Hopkins University, and as...

 who invited him to become one of the original faculty of Johns Hopkins University
Johns Hopkins University
The Johns Hopkins University, commonly referred to as Johns Hopkins, JHU, or simply Hopkins, is a private research university based in Baltimore, Maryland, United States...

. He accepted and founded the department of chemistry there, where he ran his own laboratory. In 1879 he founded the American Chemical Journal which he edited for 35 years.

In 1879 he made the greatest discovery of his career by accident. When he ate rolls at dinner after a long day in the lab researching coal tar
Coal tar
Coal tar is a brown or black liquid of extremely high viscosity, which smells of naphthalene and aromatic hydrocarbons. Coal tar is among the by-products when coal iscarbonized to make coke or gasified to make coal gas...

 derivatives, he noticed that the rolls tasted initially sweet but then bitter. Since his wife tasted nothing strange about the rolls, Remsen tasted his fingers and noticed that the bitter taste was probably from one of the chemicals in his lab. The next day at his lab he tasted the chemicals that he had been working with the previous day and discovered that it was the oxidation of o-toluenesulfonamide he had tasted the previous evening. He named the substance saccharin
Saccharin
Saccharin is an artificial sweetener. The basic substance, benzoic sulfilimine, has effectively no food energy and is much sweeter than sucrose, but has a bitter or metallic aftertaste, especially at high concentrations...

 and he and his research partner Constantin Fahlberg
Constantin Fahlberg
Constantin Fahlberg ) discovered the sweet taste of anhydroorthosulphaminebenzoic acid in 1877/78 when analysing the chemical compounds in coal tar at Johns Hopkins University for Professor Ira Remsen...

 published their finding in 1880. Later Remsen became angry after Fahlberg patented saccharin, claiming that he had discovered saccharin.

In 1901 Remsen was appointed the president of Johns Hopkins, where he proceeded to found a School of Engineering and helped establish the school as a research university. He introduced many of the German laboratory techniques he had learned and wrote several important chemistry textbooks. In 1912 he stepped down as president and retired to Carmel, California.

In 1923 he was awarded the Priestley medal
Priestley Medal
The Priestley Medal is the highest honor conferred by the American Chemical Society and is awarded for distinguished service in the field of chemistry. Established in 1922, the award is named after Joseph Priestley, the discoverer of oxygen who immigrated to the United States of America in 1794...

. He died on March 4, 1927.

Legacy


After his death the new chemistry building was named after him at Johns Hopkins. His ashes are located behind a plaque in Remsen Hall; he is the only person buried on campus. According to legend, undergraduates who rub the plaque the night before their chemistry exam will do well.

His Baltimore house
Ira Remsen House
The Ira Remsen House was the home of Johns Hopkins University president Ira Remsen from 1901 to 1925. The house is a typical Baltimore row house of no particular architectural distinction. It is primarily notable for its association with Remsen, a noted chemist.The house is a three story brick...

 was added to the National Register of Historic Places
National Register of Historic Places
The National Register of Historic Places is the United States government's official list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects deemed worthy of preservation...

 and declared a National Historic Landmark
National Historic Landmark
A National Historic Landmark is a building, site, structure, object, or district, that is officially recognized by the United States government for its historical significance...

 in 1975.

External links

  • JHU Gazette Article
  • An Essay on Ira Remsen
  • 1910 at afam.nts.jhu.edu Remsen presents his view that following the lead of the Quaker Johns Hopkins by admitting persons of African descent to Johns Hopkins University was an "almost suicidal" act.