Beckmans Pledge $50 Million for Center at Caltech

Times Education Writer

Caltech announced Friday that it had received a pledge of $50 million from a foundation established by Orange County industrialist Arnold O. Beckman and his wife, Mabel, to establish a scientific research center devoted to problems in the forefront of modern biology and chemistry.

The Beckman Institute, as it is to be known, will eventually be housed in a new building on the Pasadena campus.

“There will be no place quite like it in the country,” said Caltech President Marvin L. Goldberger. The institute, he explained, will take some of the dramatic scientific advances of the past five years and provide scientists with both the equipment and resources to experiment in ways not possible under existing research programs.

Discoveries in the field of genetic and molecular engineering, for example, have led to the creation of materials not found in nature. Even more dramatic discoveries will surely be forthcoming, Goldberger said, but only if scientists from a variety of fields are encouraged to look beyond the confines of their own disciplines, are given the most sophisticated equipment available and are encouraged to be daring in their approach to new scientific problems.


That, Goldberger said, is precisely what he hopes the Beckman Institute will do.

Research to Begin Shortly

Although plans for the actual building itself will not get under way for a year or more, Goldberger said he expects to begin research projects in existing space on campus as soon as Caltech receives the first $40 million of the grant. That amount, he said, should be coming shortly, although it is contingent on Caltech raising $10 million in building funds from private sources.

It had been expected for some time that the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation would provide funds for a new research center somewhere in Southern California. Caltech’s principal contender for the grant was thought to be the City of Irvine.


For Arnold Beckman, 85, Caltech has been an important institution. He received his Ph.D. degree there in 1928, and was a member of Caltech’s faculty until 1940 when he left to devote full time to his company, Beckman Instruments Inc. of Fullerton, a manufacturer of medical instruments (now a part of SmithKline Beckman Corp.). He served as chairman of the Caltech Board of Trustees from 1964 to 1974. Three buildings on the Caltech campus, including a 1,200-seat auditorium, now bear his name.

Personal Fortune Estimated

Several years ago, Beckman’s personal fortune was estimated to be in excess of half a billion dollars. More recently, he has indicated his eagerness to dispose of a substantial portion of that money before “it gets handed over to our estate and the government gets it.”

Last year, just before announcing a $20-million grant from the foundation to establish the western headquarters of the National Academy of Science in Irvine, Beckman commented:


“It’s harder to give money away than it is to make it.”

In addition to the $50-million pledge to Caltech and the grant to the National Academy of Science, the Beckman Foundation has made numerous substantial gifts in the past few years. Those include: $40 million to the University of Illinois for an Institute for Advanced Science and Technology; $12 million to establish a laboratory for biochemistry at Stanford University; $12 million to establish the Beckman Research Institute at the City of Hope in Duarte; $3.5 million to the University of California, San Francisco, for the Beckman Vision Center, and $2.5 million for the Beckman Laser Institute and Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine.

Record Donations

The size of the Caltech gift is not a record. Last month, for example, Stanford University alumni David and Lucile Packard pledged $70 million to their alma mater, and similar or larger single donations have been made in recent years to several eastern universities.


Following his typical pattern of not commenting on the grants he bestows, Beckman was not available for comment about his latest gift to Caltech. The announcement of the gift was made by Goldberger after Beckman delivered Caltech’s commencement address.

In the address, Beckman urged the graduates to “let your imagination run wild,” and added: “Judging from what has actually happened in my lifetime, your wildest fantasies will fall far short of what will become realities during your lifetime. Discoveries of the next half-century will probably be more numerous, and at least as astounding, as those made during my lifetime. More research scientists are at work now then ever before in history. . . . As you think about the future, think big.”