Vol. 4 Issue 18 / May 24, 2004

In Memoriam:
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 104.

"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, and education."

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 bio-organic chemistry.

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 inventions—a 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 equipment.

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



Go back to News & Views Index

Scientist, inventor, and philanthropist Arnold O. Beckman died this week at the age of 104. Photo by Antony di Gesu.