Chemist Ira Remsen : Biography

Ira Remsen was born on February 10, 1846 in New York

city. Even though he was born in the United States, he was

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educated in Germany. He received his M.D. at Columbia University in 1867 and he also earned a Ph.D. at the University of Munich and Göttingen in Germany. After receiving his degrees, Remsen began his investigation in pure chemistry at the University of Tübingen.

It was in Germany and in Europe Remsen did most of his research. In 1876 he returned to the United States where his became one of the original faculty of Johns Hopkins University. There he founded the chemistry department. He was an excellent professor who trained a generation of prominent chemists. He was also the Director of the Chemical Laboratory and secretary of the Academic Council. In 1879, he was the founding editor of American Chemical Journal. Also in that same year, he made a remarkable, accidental discovery with a fellow researcher Constantine Fahlberg when they were working on a derivative of coal tar.

One night, after a long day in his laboratory

He we was having dinner with wife. When he was eating a regular roll. Remsen noticed that it was quite sweet at first, but it left a bitter after-taste. He made his wife taste the bread and he found nothing wrong or something unusual about the taste. So Remsen decided to taste his fingers and there he found that same sweet then bitter taste despite washing his hands thoroughly after working in his lab. After dinner, he returned to his laboratory and started to taste all the chemicals he was handling. When he found that chemical, it was oxidation of o-toluenesulfonamide and he called it saccharin. In 1880, Remsen and Fahlberg published their findings in the February issue of The Chemical Journal.

Many people thought that it was Constantine who discovered saccharin, but he stole the formula from Remsen. When they stopped working together, Constantine patented the formula and became filthy rich. As a result Remsen didn’t received any credit for the discovery. Constantine

received the recognition that Remsen earned and rightfully deserved. Remsen was furious at first about the matter; “it makes my blood boil to see the lies that scoundrel Fahlberg constantly, constantly in print, and to see further, that they are generally believed.” Later Remsen would apologize for this outburst.

Remsen moved to bigger and better things. In 1901, he was appointed President of Johns Hopkins University, there in that same year, he wrote several important textbooks on chemistry. Remsen also found the School of Engineering at Johns Hopkins. He introduced many German laboratory methods into Johns Hopkins and emphasized the university’s function as a research “centre”. At the time at Johns Hopkins he helped establish the school as a leading graduate science teaching institute in the United States, never seeking fame or fortune for his contributions to science. His work on the research-based Doctoral program at Hopkins was considered important improvement to science in the United States.

In 1913, Dr. Ira Remsen stepped down as president at

Johns Hopkins University. Remsen still continued to

keep chemistry the number one priority in his life. He moved and resided in Carmel, California. Until his passing away on March 4, 1927 of natural causes.

Saccharin is derived from the Latin word saccharum, meaning sugar. Saccharin is also called Ortho-sulfobenzoic acid imide; the formula is C6H4CONHSO2. Saccharin is a synthetic, white, crystalline powder that melts at 228.08 to 229.7 degrees Celsius and very soluble in water. It is 550 times as sweet as sugar cane. And it is also estimated to have a sweetening power 375 times that of sugar. When saccharin is dissolved in water in large amounts, the solution is very bitter. Sweetness is only evident in a diluted solution. Saccharin cannot be digested by the body and has no food values. Those who are diabetic and people who ate on weight reducing diets use it in place of sugar. They used it for the psychological purpose of satisfying a taste for sweetness. Many critics say that that saccharin can itself stimulate the appetite and the production of insulin in the body.

For several years, saccharin has been under investigation as a risk for cancer. It was banned in Canada in 1977 for that same reason. But in the United States Public reaction has help to keep saccharin on the market. The Food and Drug Administration requires that warning labels to be put on products containing saccharin.

1846:Born on February 10th in New York City

Childhood – Lived and educated in Germany

1867: Received Masters Degree from Columbia University

1870: Earned Ph.D. at Universities of Munich and

Started research into pure chemistry at University of Tubingen.

1872:Moved back to the United States

1875:Became one of the original faculties of Johns Hopkins university

1876:Founded the Chemistry department at Johns Hopkins and became Director of the chemical laboratory

1879:Accidentally discovered saccharin and founded The American Chemical Journal. Also wrote important textbooks.

1887:Named Secretary of the Academic Council

1901:Became president of Johns Hopkins university

Ended his term of Secretary of the Academic Council

1908:Stepped down as Director of Chemical Laboratory

1913:Retired as President, a professor, and as the editor of American Chemical Journal.

1927Died on March 4th of natural causes


1.”Sacchrin”Microsoft®Encarta®Encyclopedia. © 1993-1997 Microsoft Corporation.

2.”Ira Remsen”The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, By J.S Bowmen. ©1995Cambridge University.


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