Arnold Beckman, Ph.D: Biography

Arnold O. Beckman, founder-chairman emeritus of Beckman Instruments, Inc., represents nearly a century of outstanding scientific achievements. Considered one of the top five inventors of scientific instruments, Dr. Beckman created devices that revolutionized the study and understanding of human biology, ultimately saving countless lives around the world. Dr. Beckman once said, "There is no satisfactory substitute for excellence." More than just words, this philosophy guided his life and helped shape scientific history.

Throughout his legacy of excellence, Dr. Beckman has assumed many roles - that of educator, inventor, civic leader, philanthropist and humanitarian. The foundation of his highly decorated career though has always been his personal integrity and his love for science. Born in the small farming community of Cullom, Ill., on April 10, 1900, Arnold Beckman's young interest in science was first piqued upon finding a chemistry book in the family attic.

Not long after reading Steele's Fourteen Weeks in Science, originally published in 1861, he converted a tool shed built for him by his father into a makeshift chemistry lab using the tools he received for his 10th birthday. Dr. Beckman began a more serious study of science at the University of Illinois, where he received his bachelor's degree in chemical engineering in 1922, followed by his master's degree in physical chemistry one year later. Throughout his school years, he also tapped into his creative talents by playing piano in silent movies to help support his family and fund his education.

Beckman went on to receive his doctorate in photochemistry at the California Institute of Technology (1928), where he also served as a professor. While he was still teaching, Dr. Beckman founded Beckman Instruments in 1935 with the invention of the acidimeter, which he first produced for a former classmate at a Southern California citrus processing plant. Designed to measure acidity levels in lemon juice, the acidimeter turned out to be a forerunner of the modern pH meter. It quickly became an indispensable tool in analytical chemistry and earned him a place in the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1987, joining other great inventors like Thomas Edison and Alexander Bell. Dr. Beckman once stated, "When you're faced with the necessity to do something, that's a stimulus to invention. 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."

Dr. Beckman continued to develop and manufacture scientific instruments, leading to the release of the Beckman DU Spectrophotometer in 1940. Considered the scientific equivalent of the Model T, this product not only simplified tedious laboratory procedures, it also increased analytical precision and revolutionized chemical analysis. Although new models were introduced through the years, there are still many original DU Spectrophotometers in use around the world today. These extraordinary contributions led President Bush to award Dr. Beckman the National Medal of Science in 1989 for his leadership in analytical instrumentation development and for his deep concern for the vitality of the nation's scientific enterprises.

He was also nationally recognized under the Reagan administration with the 1989 Presidential Citizens Medal for his exemplary deeds of service and the 1988 National Medal of Technology for outstanding technological contributions to the United States. Dr. Beckman's love of science and spirit of invention lives on in Beckman Instruments, a company with modest beginnings that today is one of the world's leading manufacturers of instruments and suppliers to the clinical diagnostics and life sciences markets.

Even though the company has made a wide variety of products over the years, including a "rock smasher" for a Mars robot mission and an electronic shark repellent, it has never strayed very far from Dr. Beckman's original focus on "the chemistry of life." "The past years have been rewarding for me in many ways," said Dr. Beckman, during the Golden Anniversary celebration for Beckman Instruments, Inc. "Perhaps the greatest reward is the knowledge that Beckman products have contributed and are contributing to the benefit of mankind."

Dr. Beckman died on May 18, 2004 at Scripps Green Hospital in La Jolla, California. He was 104 years old. He was buried next to his beloved wife, Mabel, in his birthplace in Cullom, Illinois.