The Instrumental Chemist: The Incredible Curiosity of Arnold O. Beckman is a documentary about the remarkable life and legacy of chemist, inventor, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Arnold Beckman.
Available on demand nationwide, the one-hour film highlights six of Beckman’s groundbreaking scientific instruments and their invaluable contributions to such diverse fields as art conservation and oyster farming.
Produced in collaboration with Philadelphia-based production company FreshFly, The Instrumental Chemist was created in conjunction with the Institute’s Arnold O. Beckman Legacy Project and funded by support from the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation.
The documentary features interviews from experts from many disciplines speaking about how their work benefitted from Beckman’s inventions and philanthropy, including shellfish farmers from the Pacific Northwest, an art conservator at the University of Delaware, an ophthalmologist and professor at Boston Children’s Hospital, the director of Drexel’s Air Resources Research Laboratory, biochemistry researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, and the director of the International Institute for Nanotechnology at Northwestern University.
Watch it now on the following platforms:
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In the first half of the 20th century, innovators were combining electronics with chemistry to create new measuring instruments. In the hands of researchers, scientists, and engineers, these electronic chemical instruments changed our world. Arnold Beckman was at the center of this scientific revolution, creating a thriving business that built a multitude of innovative instruments that were used in industry, Nobel Prize-winning research and lifesaving medicine.
About Arnold Beckman
Arnold O. Beckman (1900–2004) was a born tinkerer. From a young age his curiosity led him to experiment and build using electronic parts and chemicals that he found around his small hometown of Cullom, Illinois. After a stint with the U.S. Marines in World War I, he studied at the University of Illinois, graduating with a degree in chemical engineering. Beckman then went to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) to study physical and chemical analysis. He founded Beckman Instruments while he was a professor at Caltech, based on his 1934 invention of a pH meter, a device he developed to measure the acidity in lemon products. In the 1950s he developed instruments to measure air pollution in smog-choked Los Angeles.
Later Beckman’s company produced spectrophotometers, ultracentrifuges, and other chemical instruments that were used in the early research that identified DNA and its central role in life’s chemistry. Beckman’s oxygen meters played a key role in reducing retinopathy of immaturity, the medical condition that caused blindness in thousands of premature babies. Later in life he donated much of his fortune to advance science. His legacy lies not only in the instruments he created but in how those instruments continue to expand our view of the world.
FreshFly are storytellers who develop, create and produce visual content for all screen sizes. The company specializes in documentary-style work with a bold, human touch.
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.
Discover the stories behind five of the most groundbreaking scientific instruments from the 20th century.
In the 1940s two chemists joined forces to fight Los Angeles’s stinky, stinging air.