Arnold O. BeckmanHere at BioSurplus we spend hours each day surrounded by an amazing collection of laboratory equipment, dedicated to helping our customers find just the right instrument to meet their needs.  From bioreactors to benchtop centrifuges, HPLCs to automated liquid handlers, our showrooms and warehouses are filled with concrete examples of the power of human curiosity, ingenuity and perseverance.

Lately I’ve found myself standing in front of various pieces of equipment and wondering.  Where did this instrument come from?  What series of events led to its invention and evolution over the years?

What are the stories behind the equipment we sell?

The other day I was speaking with Zack Prag from our sales team about a spectrophotometer he had set aside for a customer.  I asked him a handful of questions about the device and this led to a general discussion of spectrophotometry and its evolution.  And this, in turn, led to my doing some digging and finding the topic of…

Arnold Orville Beckman

Born in Cullom, Illinois in 1900, Arnold Orville Beckman got his start in science at age nine when he found an old chemistry book and began conducting experiments.  His blacksmith father further encouraged him, building a tool shed where the budding scientist set up a lab.  Who would have known this would lead to a revolution in chemical analysis and the founding of the company that became one of the most important producers of research and medical instruments?

The Beckman DU Spectrophotometer
The Beckman DU Spectrophotometer

Beckman studied at the University of Illinois, receiving a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering in 1922, and his master’s in physical chemistry in 1923. After completing a doctorate in photochemistry at Caltech in 1928, Dr. Beckman joined the university’s faculty, where he was also allowed to consult with outside clients.

A request from a client for a better method of testing the acidity of lemons in the production of citric acid led to the development of his first major invention, the pH meter, and the founding in 1935 of the company that eventually evolved into industry giant Beckman Instruments.

The Beckman DU Spectrophotometer

Beckman’s next great breakthrough came with the invention of his first spectrophotometer in 1940, which incorporated the amplifier from his pH meter. After making various improvements to the instrument, the Beckman DU spectrophotometer was introduced. Sometimes referred to as the “Model T of laboratory instruments,” the Beckman DU spectrophotometer was a major contributor to the development of biochemistry for 30-plus years.


“The spectrophotometer improved biological assays from a process that took weeks and achieved 25 percent accuracy to one that took minutes and achieved 99.9 percent precision. Although new models were introduced through the years, many of these original instruments are still in use today.” (, 2004)


The Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center for Chemical Sciences
(Credit: Courtesy of The Scripps Research Institute.)

Besides being an icon of modern laboratory instrumentation, Arnold O. Beckman was also a very generous philanthropist.  The Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation was formed to make grants to non-profit research institutions and promote research in chemistry and the life sciences.  The foundation has donated more than 400 million dollars to date.

Among Dr. Beckman’s beneficiaries is BioSurplus client, the Scripps Research Institute, which received major funding for the construction of the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center for Chemical Sciences.  The facility opened in 1996 and houses scientists in molecular design, chemical synthesis, and bio-organic chemistry, among others.

Arnold O. Beckman lived a long, productive and fulfilling life, leaving his mark on the history of modern science.  He died at age 104 at Scripps Green Hospital in La Jolla, California.


BioSurplus carries a variety of spectrometers from Beckman, as well as other trusted manufacturers such as Agilent, Eppendorf, Thermo, Milton Roy and others.  Take a moment to browse our catalog here:

BioSurplus Catalog – Spectrophotometers

Our in-house experts are on call to provide installation, service and repair, preventative maintenance, decontamination services and move management.  For more information please contact our service team at 858-550-0800 x306 or

If you have any questions or don’t see what you’re looking for in our catalog, please contact our sales team at 858-550-0800, x201, or