Memoir

Ira Remsen

February 10, 1846 - March 4, 1927


Election Year: 1882
Membership Type: Member

Ira Remsen served as President of the National Academy of Sciences from 1907 to 1913. A chemist, whose most notable discovery was found while conducting research on coal tar derivatives. He noticed that through oxidation of a particular compound he had created a sweet substance he named saccharin, widely used as an artificial sweetener.

After graduating from Columbia University with a degree in medicine Remsen went on to pursue his interests in chemistry. In 1867 he went to Germany to study at the universities of Munich and Göttingen, where he earned his PhD in chemistry 1870. He spent the next two years investigating pure chemistry at the University of Tübingen. Upon his return to the United States, Remsen was a Professor of chemistry and physics at Williams College when he was invited to join the original faculty of Johns Hopkins University and create the new Chemistry Department. Remsen’s long career at Johns Hopkins began in 1876 where he served as a Professor of Chemistry, Director of the Chemical Laboratory, Secretary of the Academic Council, and President of the University. In addition, he founded the American Chemical Journal in 1879 and served as its editor until 1913. 

During his presidency of the National Academy of Sciences he appointed a committee on the Conduct of Scientific Work under the Government and a committee to cooperate with the National Conservation Commission. In 1909 President Roosevelt appointed Remsen as the Chairman of a Board to study problems associated with the Pure Food and Drug Act. With few other calls on the Academy, Remsen focused on internal affairs by specializing standing committees to allow for a broader range of disciplines to be represented and appointing a committee to report on plans to make public meetings important scientific events.

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