Today is the birthday of Ira Remsen, born in 1846, he discovered the artificial sweetener saccharin in 1880. He also founded the chemistry department at John Hopkins University.
While reading a textbook of chemistry I came upon the statement, “nitric acid acts upon copper.”
I was getting tired of reading such absurd stuff and I was determined to see what this meant.
Copper was more or less familiar to me, for copper cents were then in use. I had seen a bottle
marked nitric acid on a table in the doctor’s office where I was then “doing time.” I did not know
its peculiarities, but the spirit of adventure was upon me. Having nitric acid and copper, I had
only to learn what the words “act upon” meant. The statement “nitric acid acts upon copper”
would be something more than mere words. All was still. In the interest of knowledge I was even
willing to sacrifice one of the few copper cents then in my possession. I put one of them on the
table, opened the bottle marked nitric acid, poured some of the liquid on the copper and prepared
to make an observation. But what was this wonderful thing which I beheld? The cent was already
changed and it was no small change either. A green-blue liquid foamed and fumed over the cent
and over the table. The air in the neighborhood of the performance became colored dark red. A
great colored cloud arose. This was disagreeable and suffocating. How should I stop this? I tried
to get rid of the objectionable mess by picking it up and throwing it out of the window. I learned
another fact. Nitric acid not only acts upon copper, but it acts upon fingers. The pain led to
another unpremeditated experiment. I drew my fingers across my trousers and another fact was
discovered. Nitric acid acts upon trousers. Taking everything into consideration, that was the
most impressive experiment and relatively probably the most costly experiment I have ever
Claude-Louis Navier was born on this day in 1785. He formulated the general theory of elasticity in a mathematically usable form.
John Franklin Enders, was born in 1897. He has been called “The Father of Modern Vaccines” for his work in growing the poliovirus in culture. Sometimes they call that in vitro which means “in glass” as opposed to in vivo which means growing in the body.