Beckman HC/CO Tester
Detail. Courtesy of Beckman Coulter Heritage Council.

In some U.S. states the levels of hydrocarbons (HCs) and carbon monoxide (CO) emitted by cars are regulated and tested biannually as part of a regular car inspection. The Beckman HC/CO tester was an early example of an instrument used to measure the levels of these mixtures in car exhaust.

Arnold Beckman, chemist, inventor, and founder of Beckman Instruments, had long been interested in the quality of the air in California, where he lived. In 1952 Beckman chaired a committee on air-pollution reform, as the city of Los Angeles was in the midst of determining the best course of action for its growing smog problem. By the end of that decade Los Angeles had formed the California Motor Vehicle Pollution Control Board, which had the authority to implement emission standards for cars. Enforcing the new regulations and guidelines required the right instrument, and Beckman again led the way with the HC/CO tester. Today we take many pollution-reducing features of cars and gas stations for granted: shields on gas-station pumps and catalytic converters in cars, among others. New regulations, improvements to vehicles, and instrumentation from this period provided a strong basis for reducing air pollution significantly, and efforts continue to combat contaminants in our air.