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News from the National Academy of Sciences

Date: Jan. 13, 1999
Contacts: Barbara J. Rice, Deputy Director
Brad Bortone, Media Relations Assistant
(202) 334-2138; e-mail <news@nas.edu>

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Arnold O. Beckman to Receive 1999 Public Welfare Medal,
Academy's Highest Honor

WASHINGTON -- The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has selected Arnold O. Beckman to receive the Academy's most prestigious award, the Public Welfare Medal. Beckman was chosen for his leadership in developing analytical instrumentation and for his deep and abiding concern for the vitality of the nation's scientific enterprise. Beckman founded Beckman Instruments Inc., Pasadena, Calif. -- one of the world's leading manufacturers of scientific instruments and a main supplier to the fields of clinical diagnostics and life sciences. He became chairman emeritus in 1986.

"Dr. Beckman is recognized worldwide as a scientist, inventor, educator, philanthropist, and civic and business leader," said Peter H. Raven, NAS home secretary and chair of the selection committee. "His inventions and philanthropy have contributed to the progress of humankind for most
of this century." Established in 1914, the Public Welfare Medal is presented annually to honor extraordinary use of science for the public good. Previous recipients include Vannevar Bush, C. Everett Koop, and Carl Sagan.

"Through philanthropy for almost two decades, Dr. Beckman has fueled the flame of scientific discovery," said NAS President Bruce Alberts. "His generosity has supported scientific research for the public good at many major universities and institutes. Dr. Beckman also believes strongly that education in the sciences is important at all levels. For example, in addition to promoting graduate school initiatives, he has supported programs for elementary school children regarding hands-on, inquiry-based learning."

Considered one of the top five inventors of scientific instruments, Beckman created devices that revolutionized the study and understanding of human biology, ultimately saving countless lives around the world. Born on April 10, 1900, in the small farming community of Cullom, Ill., young Beckman's interest in science was kindled at the age of 10 through a chemistry book he found in the attic. He converted a tool shed, built for him by his father, into a makeshift chemistry lab.

Beckman began a more serious study of science at the University of Illinois, where he received his bachelor's degree in chemical engineering and master's degree in physical chemistry in 1922. Throughout his school years, he also tapped into his creative talents by playing the piano in silent movies and two dance orchestras to fund his education. Beckman received his doctorate in photochemistry in 1928 at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, where he also served as a professor from 1928 to 1940.

In 1935, with his invention of the acidimeter, Beckman founded what eventually became Beckman Instruments Inc. Produced for a former classmate at a Southern California citrus processing plant, the device measured the acidity levels in lemon juice. It was later called a pH meter, and quickly became an indispensable tool in analytical chemistry. The invention earned him a place in the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1987, joining Thomas Edison, Alexander Bell, and other great inventors.

Beckman left the Caltech faculty to develop and make scientific instruments full time, and in 1940 manufactured the famous Model DU spectrophotometer. Considered the scientific equivalent of the Model T, this product not only simplified tedious laboratory procedures but also increased analytical precision and revolutionized chemical analysis. Before this invention, conventional biological analyses with laboratory rats took a month to complete and were accurate to only within 25 percent. The DU took one minute to do the same analysis and was accurate up to 1 percent. Today Beckman holds 14 patents. Based on his extraordinary contributions, he received the National Medal of Technology in 1988 and the National Medal of Science and the Presidential Citizens Medal in 1989.

One of Beckman's ongoing civic concerns has been the growing problem of air pollution. He helped initiate studies on the sources of photochemical smog, and helped develop control regulations and warning procedures for Los Angeles County. In 1953 Beckman chaired a special technical committee on air pollution appointed by the governor of California. Its scientific findings and recommendation for smog reduction became a standard reference for later control programs. In 1970 President Nixon named Beckman to a four-year term on the Federal Air Quality Control Board.

Throughout his stellar career, Beckman remained active in his educational and research pursuits. In 1953 he was the first alumnus named to Caltech's Board of Trustees and served as chair from 1964 to 1974, at which time he became chairman emeritus. He was a member of the Board of Overseers of the University of California at Irvine, the President's Club of the University of Illinois, and the Rockefeller University Council. He was a member of the advisory boards of California State University at Fullerton and Chapman College in Orange, Calif., and a regional trustee of Mills College, Oakland, Calif. Beckman holds honorary degrees from 12 universities.

A renowned philanthropist, Beckman has contributed $300 million to the advancement of scientific research and education through the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation. The foundation provides research support to five Beckman Institutes and Centers located at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; City of Hope Hospital and Medical Center, Duarte, Calif.; Stanford University, Stanford, Calif.; and the Laser Institute at the University of California, Irvine. Other gifts have benefited a number of scientific, educational, and medical institutions, including the University of California, San Francisco; the Salk Institute, La Jolla, Calif.; the Scripps Clinic and Medical Center, La Jolla; and the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center of the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering, Irvine.

Beckman is founder and life member of the Instrument Society of America. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the American Chemical Society, and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Association of Clinical Scientists. He is an honorary fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a Benjamin Franklin Fellow of Great Britain's Royal Society of Arts. In 1957 he was made an honorary fellow of the American Institute of Chemists, an honor bestowed to only 1 percent of its membership.

The NAS Public Welfare Medal, consisting of a bronze medal and an illuminated scroll, will be presented to Beckman during the NAS annual meeting in April 1999. The National Academy of Sciences is a private, non-profit institution that provides science advice under a congressional charter.