Ira Remsen

Intro American chemist
Was Chemist Professor Educator
From United States of America
Type Academia Science
Gender male
Birth 10 February 1846, New York City, USA
Death 4 March 1927, Carmel-by-the-Sea, USA (aged 81 years)
Star sign Aquarius

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.


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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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." 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. 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. His Baltimore house was added to the National Register of Historic Places and declared a National Historic Landmark in 1975. Remsen Hall in Queens College is also named for him.

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. Awardees are frequently of the highest caliber, and included a sequence of 16 Nobel laureates between 1950 and 1980. Recipients 1946: Roger Adams 1947: Samuel C. Lind 1948: Elmer V. McCollum 1949: Joel H. Hildebrand 1950: Edward C. Kendall 1951: Hugh Stott Taylor 1952: W. Mansfield Clark [de; it; pt] 1953: Edward L. Tatum 1954: Vincent du Vigneaud 1955: Willard F. Libby 1956: Farrington Daniels 1957: Melvin Calvin 1958: Robert B. Woodward 1959: Edward Teller 1960: Henry Eyring (chemist) 1961: Herbert C. Brown 1962: George Porter 1963: Harold C. Urey 1964: Paul Doughty Bartlett 1965: James R. Arnold 1966: Paul H. Emmett 1967: Marshall W. Nirenberg 1968: Har Gobind Khorana 1969: Albert L. Lehninger 1970: George S. Hammond 1971: George C. Pimentel 1972: Charles H. Townes 1973: Frank H. Westheimer 1974: Elias J. Corey 1975: Henry Taube 1976: William N. Lipscomb, Jr. 1977: Ronald Breslow 1978: John Charles Polanyi 1979: Harry B. Gray 1980: Roald Hoffman 1981: Koji Nakanishi 1982: Harden McConnell 1983: George M. Whitesides 1984: Earl L. Muetterties 1985: Richard N. Zare 1986: Gilbert Stork 1987: Stephen J. Lippard 1988: Mildred Cohn 1989: K. Barry Sharpless 1990: Robert G. Bergman 1991: Rudolph A. Marcus 1992: William Klemperer 1993: Christopher T. Walsh 1994: Edward I. Solomon 1995: Alfred G. Redfield [de] 1996: David A. Evans 1997: William Hughes Miller 1998: Peter Dervan 1999: Thomas J. Meyer [Wikidata] 2000: Alexander Pines 2001: Ad Bax 2002: Matthew S. Platz [Wikidata] 2003: Henry F. Schaefer III 2004: Samuel Danishefsky 2005: Judith P. Klinman 2006: Gabor A. Somorjai 2007: Peter F. Leadlay [Wikidata] 2008: John C. Tully 2009: Jean Frechet 2010: John T. Groves 2011: Graham R. Fleming 2012: Daniel G. Nocera 2013: Eric Jacobsen 2014: Emily A. Carter 2015: JoAnne Stubbe 2016: Charles M. Lieber 2017: Robert H. Grubbs 2018: Chad Mirkin

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