James Bryant Conant was a chemist, a transformative President of Harvard University, and the first U.S. Ambassador to West Germany. Graduating from Harvard with a Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1916, Conant served in the U.S. Army during World War I, working on the development of poison gases. He became an assistant professor of chemistry at Harvard in 1919, and the Sheldon Emery Professor of Organic Chemistry in 1929. His research investigated the physical structures of natural products, particularly chlorophyll, and he was one of the first to explore the sometimes complex relationship between chemical equilibrium and the reaction rate of chemical processes. He studied the biochemistry of oxyhemoglobin providing insight into the disease methemoglobinemia, helped to elucidate the structure of chlorophyll, and contributed important insights that underlie modern theories of acid-base chemistry.
In 1933, Conant became the President of Harvard University with a reformist agenda that involved dispensing with a number of customs, including class rankings and the requirement for Latin classes. He abolished athletic scholarships, and instituted an "up or out" policy, under which scholars who were not promoted were terminated. His egalitarian vision of education required a diversified student body, and he promoted the adoption of the Scholastic Aptitude Test and co-educational classes. During his presidency, women were admitted to Harvard Medical School and Harvard Law School for the first time.