Arnold O. Beckman (1900 2004)
Arnold O. Beckman, a leading scientist, inventor, philanthropist,
and business and civic leader, died on May 18 at the age of
"We offer our condolences to the Beckman family," says Scripps
Research President Richard A. Lerner. "Arnold's science and
philanthropy left a lasting legacy on the Scripps Research
campus, as well as on the face of American science, business,
The Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, which issues grants
on the behalf of Beckman and his wife, provided major funding
toward the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center for Chemical Sciences,
a building that opened in 1996 on the Scripps Research campus.
Today, the Beckman Center houses more than 400 scientists
in fields such as molecular design, chemical synthesis, and
Born in Cullom, Illinois, on April 10, 1900, Beckman graduated
from the University of Illinois with a bachelor's degree in
chemical engineering and master's degree in physical chemistry.
He received his doctoral degree in photochemistry in 1928
from the California Institute of Technology, where he also
served on the faculty for a number of years.
In 1935, Beckman founded National Technical Laboratories,
later renamed Beckman Instruments, to manufacture an inexpensive
pH meter he had invented for use in citrus juicing plants.
"When you're faced with the necessity to do something, that's
a stimulus to invention," Beckman once said. "If (my classmate)
hadn't come in with his lemon juice problem, chances are I
never in the world would have thought about making a pH meter."
A forerunner of modern electrochemical instrumentation,
this piece of scientific instrument simplified and expedited
acidity and alkalinity measurements. It quickly became a ubiquitous
tool in the laboratory and later earned Beckman a place in
the National Inventors Hall of Fame next to inventors such
as Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell.
In 1940, Beckman's company introduced another of his revolutionary
inventionsa spectrophotometer. The spectrophotometer
improved biological assays from a process that took weeks
and achieved 25 percent accuracy to one that took minutes
and achieved 99.9 percent precision. Although new models were
introduced through the years, many of these original instruments
are still in use today.
The same year, the company introduced the "helipot," a variable
resistance device that found use in a wide variety of electronic
Beckman Instruments grew to become one of the world's leading
suppliers of instruments and related products for health care
and life sciences. Today, the company has over 5,700 employees
in 35 facilities worldwide.
"The past years have been rewarding for me in many ways,"
the Beckman Foundation quotes Beckman as saying. "Perhaps
the greatest reward is the knowledge that Beckman products
have contributed and are contributing to the benefit of mankind."
By the time he celebrated his 100th birthday, Beckman had
given more than $270 million to support scientific research.
He received numerous honors and awards throughout his life,
among them the l989 National Medal of Science, the1989 Presidential
Citizens Medal, the 1988 National Medal of Technology, the
1999 Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Sciences,
and twelve honorary degrees.
Send comments to: mikaono[at]scripps.edu
Scientist, inventor, and philanthropist
Arnold O. Beckman died this week at the age of 104. Photo
by Antony di Gesu.