Ira Remsen

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Ira Remsen
Ira Remsen.jpg
Born(1846-02-10)February 10, 1846
DiedMarch 4, 1927(1927-03-04) (aged 81)
Nationality United States
Alma mater College of Physicians and Surgeons
University of Göttingen
Known forDiscovery of saccharin
Founder, American Chemical Journal
Awards Priestley Medal (1923)
Willard Gibbs Award (1914)
Scientific career
Fields Chemistry
Institutions EK University, Tübingen
Williams College
Johns Hopkins University
Doctoral advisor Wilhelm Rudolph Fittig
Doctoral students William Henry Emerson
Charles Herty
William A. Noyes
Kotaro Shimomura

Ira Remsen (February 10, 1846 – March 4, 1927) was a chemist who, along with Constantin Fahlberg, discovered the artificial sweetener saccharin. He was the second president of Johns Hopkins University.

Chemistry is the scientific discipline involved with elements and compounds composed of atoms, molecules and ions: their composition, structure, properties, behavior and the changes they undergo during a reaction with other substances.

Constantin Fahlberg Russian chemist

Constantin Fahlberg was a Russian chemist who 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. Later Fahlberg gave this chemical "body" the trade name Saccharin.

Saccharin chemical compound

Sodium saccharin is an artificial sweetener with effectively no food energy. It is about 300–400 times as sweet as sucrose but has a bitter or metallic aftertaste, especially at high concentrations. Saccharin is used to sweeten products such as drinks, candies, cookies, and medicines.



Ira Remsen was born in New York City and earned an M.D. from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1867. Remsen subsequently studied chemistry in Germany, studying under chemist Wilhelm Rudolph Fittig, receiving a PhD from University of Göttingen in 1870. [1] In 1872, after researching pure chemistry at University of Tübingen, Remsen returned to the United States and became a professor at Williams College, where he wrote the popular text Theoretical Chemistry. Remsen's book and reputation brought him to the attention of Daniel Coit Gilman, who invited him to become one of the original faculty of Johns Hopkins University. Remsen accepted and founded the department of chemistry there, overseeing his own laboratory. In 1879 Remsen founded the American Chemical Journal, which he edited for 35 years.

New York City Largest city in the United States

The City of New York, usually called either New York City (NYC) or simply New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States. With an estimated 2017 population of 8,622,698 distributed over a land area of about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass and one of the world's most populous megacities, with an estimated 20,320,876 people in its 2017 Metropolitan Statistical Area and 23,876,155 residents in its Combined Statistical Area. A global power city, New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, and exerts a significant impact upon commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, fashion, and sports. The city's fast pace has inspired the term New York minute. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy.

Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, colloquially known as P&S and formerly Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, is the graduate professional medical school of Columbia University. Located at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan with its affiliate New York-Presbyterian Hospital. Founded in 1767 by Samuel Bard as the medical department of King's College, the College of Physicians and Surgeons was the first medical school in the thirteen colonies and hence, the United States, to award the Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree. Beginning in 1993, P&S also was the first U.S. medical school to hold a white coat ceremony.

Germany Federal parliamentary republic in central-western Europe

Germany, officially the Federal Republic of Germany, is a country in Central and Western Europe, lying between the Baltic and North Seas to the north, and the Alps to the south. It borders Denmark to the north, Poland and the Czech Republic to the east, Austria and Switzerland to the south, France to the southwest, and Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands to the west.

In 1879 Fahlberg, working with Remsen in a post-doctoral capacity, made an accidental discovery that changed Remsen's career. Eating rolls at dinner after a long day in the lab researching coal tar derivatives, Fahlberg noticed that the rolls tasted initially sweet but then bitter. [2] Since his wife tasted nothing strange about the rolls, Fahlberg 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 and he and his research partner Remsen published their finding in 1880. Later Remsen became angry after Fahlberg, in patenting saccharin, claimed that he alone had discovered saccharin. [3] Remsen had no interest in the commercial success of saccharin, from which Fahlberg profited, but he was incensed at the perceived dishonesty of not crediting him as the head of the laboratory. [2]

Coal tar is a thick dark liquid which is a by-product of the production of coke and coal gas from coal. It has both medical and industrial uses. It may be applied to the affected area to treat psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff). It may be used in combination with ultraviolet light therapy. Industrially it is a railway tie preservative and used in the surfacing of roads.

Throughout his academic career, Remsen was known as an excellent teacher, rigorous in his expectations but patient with the beginner. "His lectures to beginners were models of didactic exposition, and many of his graduate students owe much of their later success in their own lecture rooms to the pedagogical training received from attendance upon Remsen's lectures to freshmen." [4]

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, due to ill health, and retired to Carmel, California.

In 1923 he was awarded the Priestley medal. [5] [6] He died on March 4, 1927.


After his death, the new chemistry building, completed in 1924, 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.[ citation needed ]

His Baltimore house was added to the National Register of Historic Places and declared a National Historic Landmark in 1975. [7]

Remsen Hall in Queens College is also named for him.[ citation needed ]

Remsen Award

In 1946, to commemorate the centenary of Remsen, the Maryland chapter of the American Chemical Society, began awarding the Remsen award, in his honor. [8] [9] [10] [11] Awardees are frequently of the highest caliber, and included a sequence of 16 Nobel laureates between 1950 and 1980.


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Robert Ghormley Parr was an American theoretical chemist who was a Professor of Chemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

American Chemical Society American scientific society

The American Chemical Society (ACS) is a scientific society based in the United States that supports scientific inquiry in the field of chemistry. Founded in 1876 at New York University, the ACS currently has nearly 157,000 members at all degree levels and in all fields of chemistry, chemical engineering, and related fields. It is the world's largest scientific society by membership. The ACS is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and holds a congressional charter under Title 36 of the United States Code. Its headquarters are located in Washington, D.C., and it has a large concentration of staff in Columbus, Ohio.

Priestley Medal award

The Priestley Medal is the highest honor conferred by the American Chemical Society (ACS) 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. The ACS formed in 1876, spearheaded by a group of chemists who had met two years previously in Priestley's home.

Robert H. Grubbs Nobel prize winning American chemist

Robert Howard Grubbs, ForMemRS, is an American chemist and the Victor and Elizabeth Atkins Professor of Chemistry at the California Institute of Technology in Southern California. He was a co-recipient of the 2005 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on olefin metathesis. He is a co-founder of Materia, a University spin-off startup to produce catalysts.

Gilbert Stork was an organic chemist. For a quarter of a century he was the Eugene Higgins Professor of Chemistry Emeritus at Columbia University. He is known for making significant contributions to the total synthesis of natural products, including a lifelong fascination with the synthesis of quinine. In so doing he also made a number of contributions to mechanistic understanding of reactions, and performed pioneering work on enamine chemistry, leading to development of the Stork enamine alkylation. It is believed he was responsible for the first planned stereocontrolled synthesis as well as the first natural product to be synthesised with high stereoselectivity.

Peter Dervan American chemist

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Samuel Colville Lind was a radiation chemist, referred to as "the father of modern radiation chemistry". He was elected a member of the United States National Academy of Sciences in 1930. He served as president of the American Electrochemical Society in 1927 and the American Chemical Society in 1940. Among his awards was the Ira Remsen Award in 1947, and the Priestley Medal in 1952.

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