June 9, 2004 by

Arnold Beckman

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Categories: Education, Extraordinary People, Scientists

abeckman.jpgArnold Orville Beckman, an educator, inventor and philanthropist, died on May 18. Cause of death was not released. He was 104.
Beckman’s interest in science was sparked by the discovery of a chemistry book in his family’s attic. He was only 10 years old when he built his first chemistry lab. As a teen, Beckman played the piano in silent theaters to help save money for college. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and a master’s degree in physical chemistry from the University of Illinois. After receiving a doctorate in photochemistry from the California Institute of Technology, Beckman joined Caltech’s faculty.
At a friend’s request, Beckman devised a way to measure the acidity in lemons. Known as the acidimeter, or pH meter, the invention earned him a place in the National Inventors Hall of Fame. He patented 13 other inventions, including the potentiometer, a variable resistor used to alter voltage, and the spectrophotometer, an instrument that measures the intensity of radiation absorbed at different wavelengths.
In 1935, Beckman founded National Technical Laboratories, which later became the multi-billion dollar enterprise Beckman Instruments Inc. Even before it acquired the Miami-based Coulter Corp. in 1997 and changed its name to Beckman Coulter, Inc., the company was the leading manufacturer of instruments to the clinical diagnostics and life sciences markets. Its success made Beckman incredibly wealthy, and provided him with the means to become one of the greatest philanthropists of the last century.
Through the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, Beckman contributed more than $400 million to the advancement of scientific research and education. He provided the funding for Caltech’s Beckman Institute and the Beckman Auditorium, and for the interdisciplinary research institute at the University of Illinois. At least $24 million has been awarded to young scientists conducting research programs at prominent universities; another $14.5 million pays for science education programs in elementary schools.
Beckman co-founded the Instrument Society of America, which established the Arnold O. Beckman Founder Award for outstanding technological contribution to instrument design. He received the society’s first Life Achievement Award, the Presidential Citizens Medal and the National Medal of Technology.

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