Pittcon Heritage Award

Instrumentation dramatically transformed the power, pace, and impact of scientific research. New questions could be asked and answered. Research that once took years could be done in days. The Pittcon Heritage Award honors those visionaries whose entrepreneurial careers shaped the instrumentation and laboratory supplies community and by doing so have transformed the scientific community at large.

The award has been presented jointly with Pittcon since 2002 and is given out each year at a special ceremony during Pittcon. The recipient’s name and achievements are added to the Pittcon Hall of Fame, which conference attendees can visit at the show each year.


2020 Awardee: Stan Stearns

Stan Stearns, founder and director of research of the VICI group of companies, received the Pittcon Heritage Award on March 2 at the 2020 Pittcon Conference and Expo.

Born in 1942 in Miami, Stearns’s childhood included time spent with his inventor father, his airplane mechanic neighbor, and a chemistry set. After college he worked briefly as a forensic chemist, followed by a position with Wilkens Instruments, later acquired by Varian Associates.


Stan Stearns headshot

Stan Stearns

During his time at Wilkens he worked in all areas of the company, including applications, service, and sales. This broad background led him to research in separation science, where he worked to improve products and solve customers’ problems. Stearns even began to take scientific instruments home with him to experiment with new materials.

In 1968, at the age of 25, Stearns, who had created a new valve design, founded VICI Valco Instruments. Though the valves were made in a machine shop, the Stearns living room was the epicenter of the business. He and his wife built instruments, typed up invoices, packed products, billed, and shipped the boxes all from there. It was the quintessential American dream start-up.

Over the next 50 years Stearns pioneered the development of smaller, more efficient components and instruments with more than 50,000 different parts and products, still unrivaled in selection and technological reach. Valco Instruments has since grown into the VICI group of companies, with more than 500 employees worldwide at multiple locations in the United States, Switzerland, Italy, and Canada.

Stearns holds 48 patents, including for various pulse discharge detectors and a device used to administer intratumoral radiotherapy. He was honored with the R&D 100 Award for the pulsed discharge electron capture detector and the EXL Technology HPLC injector, and he has authored or coauthored more than 30 publications.

He is active on several boards, including Amegy Bank and the Oregon State University Veterinary School. Stearns is also the founder and president of the Gabriel Institute, whose mission is to treat canine osteosarcoma and to provide canine-assisted therapy.

Stearns graduated with an ACS-approved BS in chemistry from Florida State University and then spent time in postgraduate directed studies.

Previous Winners of the Pittcon Heritage Award

  • Nicholas Pelick and Walter Supina (2019)
  • Michael Morris (2018)
  • Robert Warren (2017)
  • Kenji Kazato and Kazuo Ito (2016)
  • Blaine Bowman (2015)
  • Lynwood Swanson (2014)
  • Günther Laukien (2013)
  • Genzo Shimadzu Sr. and Genzo Shimadzu Jr. (2012)
  • George and John Hatsopoulos and Arvin Smith (2011)
  • Walter Jennings (2010)
  • Alfred Bader (2009)
  • Leroy Hood (2008)
  • David Schwartz (2007)
  • Masao Horiba (2006)
  • Robert W. Allington (2005)
  • Paul A. Wilks Jr. (2004)
  • Kathryn Hach-Darrow (2003)
  • David Nelson (2002)

Pittcon Hall of Fame Inductees

All winners of the Pittcon Heritage Award are inducted into the Pittcon Hall of Fame. There they join the members of the special introductory class of instrumentation pioneers:

Pittcon Hall of Fame

The Pittcon Hall of Fame

The Pittcon Hall of Fame

George Wong

  • Walter S. Baird
  • John Townsend Baker
  • C. Eugene Bennett and Aaron Martin
  • Arnold O. Beckman
  • Howard Cary
  • Wallace Coulter
  • Keene P. Dimick
  • Charles Elmer and Richard S. Perkin
  • Robert Finnigan
  • Chester G. Fisher
  • Maurice Hasler
  • William Hewlett and David Packard
  • J. O. Jarrell
  • Frank Martinez Jr.
  • Erhard Mettler
  • Arthur H. Thomas     
  • Russell Varian and Sigurd Varian   

The Science History Institute thanks the American Chemical Society, which granted permission to adapt the biographical information for these web pages, and Declan O’Reilly, former Charles Price Fellow in Polymer Chemistry at the Institute, for his contributions.

The Institute gratefully acknowledges the generous support of the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation for this undertaking and thanks the Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy for giving us the opportunity to be a partner in maintaining the Pittcon Hall of Fame.

About Pittcon

Pittcon is the largest and most inclusive conference and exposition on laboratory science and instrumentation in the world. The annual event brings together more than 30,000 conferees and exhibitors from more than 70 countries.