Revolutionary chemical instrument receives historical recognition

03/11/04

The development of the Beckman pH meter will be designated a National Historic Chemical Landmark in a special ceremony at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., on March 24. The Beckman pH meter - the first commercially successful electronic pH meter - helped revolutionize instrumentation. The American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society, sponsors the landmark program.

Charles P. Casey, Ph.D., president of the Society, will present the bronze plaque to David A. Tirrell, Ph.D., chair of the division of chemistry and chemical engineering at the California Institute of Technology. The American Chemical Society established the chemical landmarks program in 1992 to recognize seminal historic events in chemistry and increase public awareness of the contributions of chemistry to society.

In the mid-1930s, Arnold O. Beckman, then an assistant professor of chemistry at Caltech, invented his pH meter to solve a problem confronting the California citrus industry: How to get a rapid and accurate measure of the acidity of lemon juice. In building the pH meter - with all components housed in one instrument - Beckman's faster and simpler acid and alkaline measuring device revolutionized instrumentation.

Beckman soon discovered there was a market for his pH meter, which he manufactured on the side while he continued his academic career. Strong sales lead Beckman to leave his teaching post in 1939 and devote his full attention to the company that eventually would bear his name.

Beckman Instruments became a leader in manufacturing instruments used in medicine, industry and scientific research. Now called Beckman Coulter, it is a multinational company with offices in 130 countries and sales in excess of two billion dollars.

Later in his long life (he will be 104 in April), Beckman turned to philanthropy. The Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation - established in 1977 - has donated more than $350 million to support scientific research and education. The Foundation provides ongoing research support to five Beckman centers and institutions in the United States.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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