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February 10th is Ira Remsen's birthday. Remsen was an American chemist and educator who brought many German chemical techniques to America and founded the chemistry department at Johns Hopkins University. He also founded the American Chemical Journal and acted as its editor for 35 years.

He is most known for the actions of one of his researchers, Constantin Fahlberg. Fahlberg apparently does not wash his hands after working with chemicals all day. During dinner one day, he noticed his dinner roll tasted extra sweet. He asked his wife if she did anything special with the rolls, but her roll was not sweet at all. He figured the sweetness was caused by something left on his hands from the lab.

He had been working on coal tar derivatives and spent the next day tasting his work. Ramsen and Fahlberg identified the sweetness was caused by an oxidation of o-toluenesulfonamide. Fahlberg quickly recognized the economic potential of a new sweetener and patented the discovery as 'saccharine' and claimed the discovery as his own. This caused a rift between the two chemists that lasted a lifetime.

I would still recommend washing your hands before dinner after a hard day in a chemistry lab, even if you miss out on important discoveries because of it. Find out what else occurred on this day in science history.


February 11, 2011 at 9:18 am
(1) Y J Lee says:

Your blog is so amazing! I love it.
Hope u will make great achievements in Chemistry.

July 10, 2012 at 5:15 am
(2) Alexis says:


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