Arnold Beckman was truly one of the grandfathers of modern-day science.

Arnold Beckman was truly one of the grandfathers of modern-day science. He is perhaps best remembered for inventing the pH meter, an instrument that has found use in almost every discipline of science and for which Beckman received a lifetime achievement award from the US National Inventor’s Hall of Fame. He has been recognised with dozens of other awards, including medals from US presidents George Bush and the late Ronald Reagan.

Beckman graduated from the University of Illinois, US, with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and a master’s degree in physical chemistry. He later obtained his doctorate in photochemistry from Caltech, US, where he taught as a member of staff until 1940. In 1935 he founded ’Beckman Instruments’, now Beckman Coulter, with a commercial realisation of his pH meter.

Throughout his life, Beckman maintained strong links with Caltech. In 1990 the university opened the doors of the Beckman Institute, a centre dedicated to the development of new chemical techniques and instrumental methods, part-funded by hundreds of millions of dollars from Beckman. Professor Harry Gray, the founding director of the Beckman Institute, told Chemistry World: ’We were extremely lucky to have had Arnold Beckman in the Caltech family for over 80 years. His incredible discipline and drive, together with his natural talent, his loyalty to colleagues, and his integrity, enabled him to become a world leader in science and technology.

’He will long be remembered as the Caltech professor who started the instrumentation revolution that changed the course of chemistry and biology in the 20th century; as the thoughtful philanthropist who generously supported fundamental scientific research at so many institutions; and as a remarkable human being who helped launch the careers of young investigators who shared his love of science.’

Ian Farrell