Explore the many facets of Dr. Arnold O. Beckman’s life and career in science, and join us in creating an understanding of his legacy.
Through his work as an academic chemist, a pioneer in scientific instrumentation, and a philanthropist, Dr. Arnold O. Beckman (1900–2004) contributed in many ways to the intellectual and material developments that defined 20th-century science. He is known for making instruments that accelerated the pace of laboratory research, creating and mobilizing analytical equipment to tackle pressing environmental and public health problems, and establishing research institutes and scholarship programs to support emerging fields and young scientists.
How can we effectively understand the legacy of a man whose work affected so many aspects of scientific life?
The Beckman Legacy Project aims to deepen our understanding of Beckman’s historical significance and to draw others into exploring his legacy with us. Our working group uses methods in science studies and multimedia storytelling to engage with the human dimensions of the science that Beckman cultivated. Over the course of this project we’ve produced a biographical film, a digital collection of Beckman’s papers, original scholarly research, and a museum interactive display.
The Instrumental Chemist: The Incredible Curiosity of Arnold O. Beckman
Watch the trailer for The Instrumental Chemist: The Incredible Curiosity of Arnold O. Beckman. We’re currently working with a distribution consultant to license this film and are exploring several distribution options, including broadcast, streaming, and theatrical releases. Check back soon for further updates!
In the first half of the 20th century, innovators combined electronics with chemistry to make new measuring instruments that extended our senses into the world of minuscule molecules—into the chemical domain. In the hands of many researchers, scientists, and engineers, these electronic chemical instruments changed our world. At the dawn of this instrumentation revolution entered a crucial scientist-entrepreneur: Arnold O. Beckman. Throughout his life, Beckman developed a multitude of innovative scientific instruments. He built a thriving business that made those instruments readily available for use in industry, Nobel Prize–winning research, and life-saving medicine. Later in life he donated much of his fortune to advance science. His legacy is not only in the instruments he created but in how those instruments continue to expand our view of the world. This is his story.
Beckman Digital Archive
The Beckman Digital Archive contains over 2,300 works, including letters, advertisements, photographs, instrument manuals, instrument development documentation, and other materials documenting the history of Beckman Instruments, Inc. and Arnold and Mabel Beckman’s philanthropy and civic engagement. This digital collection represents over three years of work to curate and digitize selected materials from the Science History Institute archives. The Beckman Digital Archive is searchable and its images are available to download as both high-resolution .tiff files and smaller .jpeg files for web publication. Researchers can also view the finding aid for more information about the full collection.
The Beckman Legacy Project research fellows have taken an interdisciplinary approach to their investigation of Arnold Beckman and his legacy. They have examined Beckman’s legacy from multiple angles by investigating both Beckman’s own scientific work, and the work of the institutes he funded. Here is a curated list of their outputs.
by Joseph Klett
Distillations magazine, April 2018
Tattoos are more than decoration. For many people they are lasting symbols of belief, marks of affiliation, declarations of self. But what can you do when they way you look no longer matches who you are?
Join the Battle Against Air Pollution!
by Roger Turner
Picturing Meteorology blog, January 22, 2018
1960s advertisements produced by Beckman Instruments showed the many ways that scientists and regulators could see air pollution using a new generation of scientific instruments.
Imagining Philadelphia's Energy Futures
by Roger Eardley-Pryor
Science History Institute, July-October 2017
How do Philadelphians imagine a sustainable future for their city? This project examined energy, climate change, and the future of Philadelphia.
Picturing the Future
by Deanna Day
Science History Institute Museum, June–September 2017
To learn what someone values, ask them what they want the future to look like. This exhibit used advertisements, product packaging, informational literature, and instrument design to explore how 20th century scientists imagined the future.
A Covert Success Story
by Roger Turner
Distillations blog, June 22, 2017
In the 1950s, a devious oil company created a television show to flatter industrialists and win their favor.
by Joe Klett
Distillations podcast, May 2017
In the 1960s researchers started experimenting with lasers to remove tattoos, and since then the technology has dramatically improved. Klett traces the modern history of tattoo removal through the stories of his father—a retired sailor—and ex-gang members in California.
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