New Search

Arthur L. Babson

  • Born: March 3, 1927, Orange, New Jersey

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0681
Interview Dates: December 6, 2011 and December 8, 2011
Location: Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics, Flanders, New Jersey
Interviewers: David J. Caruso and Sarah L. Hunter-Lascoskie
No. of pages: 259
Minutes: 234

  Abstract of Interview

Arthur L. Babson grew up in Essex Fells, New Jersey, one of two children. His father owned a General Electric appliance store, except during World War II, when he was an expeditor in Washington, D.C. Babson’s mother was a housewife. Babson says he did not like school very much, at least until his high-school chemistry class, but he did like nature, the nearby woods, birds, and animals. He also liked to cause explosions, at home and on railroad tracks. To earn money Babson and his brother delivered mail, set traps at the gun club, caddied, and had a soft-drink stand on the golf course.

Babson began college and the Army Special Training Reserve Program at Rutgers University but was expelled for missing a single class. He then worked in a laboratory at American Dyewood until he was drafted. From Camp Kilmer he ended up in Japan, shortly after the atomic bombs were dropped; there he worked as a cook and on a wire crew—adding an instrument to his truck to assist with wire deployment and re-coiling—and he served on guard duty, where he developed booby-traps to alert him to anyone’s approach. When he left the service and returned to the United States, he matriculated into Cornell University, where his father and brother had gone. He majored in zoology, took biochemistry, and decided to go to graduate school. After graduation he married his first wife; then he began his master’s degree in biochemistry at Rutgers. He worked on protein nutrition in cancerous rats in James Allison’s lab and decided to get a PhD with Allison.

When Babson had finished his PhD Theodore Winnick offered him a postdoc at the University of Iowa. Babson knew he wanted to do science but did not know what, and Winnick’s offer was his best, so Babson and his wife and daughter moved to Iowa. A year of the postdoc was enough; Babson accepted a good offer from Ulrich Solmssen to work at Warner-Chilcott Laboratories back in New Jersey. It was there that Babson’s career in diagnostics was launched. Tasked with developing a serum standard, he and his assistants invented Versatol, then Versatol-E (enzyme), which were successful for years; then they invented PhosphaTabs. During these years his second child was born.

Automating clinical chemistry started to emerge as Babson’s core interest, and it became a clear program at Warner-Lambert, though Warner-Lambert’s Robot Chemist lost out to Technicon’s AutoAnalyzer. At Warner, Babson moved up in administration, moved away from the bench, and became Vice President of Research for General Diagnostics. Susan, who would become his second wife, transferred to his group. The Food and Drug Administration promulgated more regulations. Babson was active in AACC (American Association for Clinical Chemistry); he won the first Gerulat Award. Then a new layer of administration above Babson caused a number of people to leave Warner. Babson waited until his benefits vested and then left. A few years later Babson’s nemesis was fired for falsifying results.

Meanwhile, Babson started his own company, Babson Research Laboratories, in his home. He patented a refinement of Blood Gas Control. He consulted for Ortho Diagnostics. Then he began work on a device to automate immunoassays (later named IMMULITE). John Underwood introduced him and his homemade demonstration model to Arthur Kydd, a venture capitalist, and the three established Pegasus Technologies, later changing the name to Cirrus Diagnostics. (Meanwhile, Babson Research Labs continued out of Babson’s home for a few years, then shut down.) Cirrus started in a school classroom, rather a deterrent to hiring others, but Babson persuaded first Tom Palmieri, a mechanical engineer, and then Arthur Ross, an electrical engineer, to join him. The business grew quickly, and by the time that Cirrus began manufacturing IMMULITE, it had taken over almost the entire schoolhouse. After building three prototypes (the A units), they moved on to building twelve production models (the B units); they sold their first production model (B1) to Morristown Memorial Hospital. Subsequently, Cirrus contracted with Lydo Manufacturing to build twenty-five more production models (the C units). Still interested in blood, Babson designed the Cardiac Risk Profiler to automate lipid profile diagnosis, but he was never able to sell it. From Babson’s perspective, the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Act ended any hope for the CRP due to greater regulations for laboratories.

But IMMULITE withstood all its competition; it is the only such instrument still being sold of the twelve competitive systems that were available in 1992 when IMMULITE was introduced. Sigi Ziering, president of Diagnostic Products Corporation (DPC), bought Cirrus, and the joint company became DPC Cirrus. The second generation of IMMULITE, the 2000, automated sample loading. Babson received the Inventor of the Year Award from the New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame. Next the company built IMMULITE 2000 XPi, for continuous flow instead of batch processing. Not yet satisfied, Babson and others then invented VersaCell, which automated sample selection completely. DPC Cirrus attracted the attention of Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics, which bought it and two other companies and combined them. Babson says the organizational structure is different, but the collegial atmosphere remains.

Babson likes to write essays, mostly with himself in mind as audience, and has written a whole book of them. He and his second wife, Susan, built their own house, taking three years to do it. The couple has taken a number of trips to Africa, especially East Africa. They are very involved in the Cheetah Conservation Fund. They have cats and dogs, but they have also raised two sets of raccoons. Babson points out that he has also won the Van Slyke Award from the AACC, and that he has just received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Siemens.

  Education

1950 B.S., Zoology, Cornell University
1953 Ph.D., Biochemistry, Rutgers University

  Professional Experience

University of Iowa

1953 - 1954

Postdoctorate with Theodore Winnick, Radiation Research
Laboratory

Warner-Chilcott (later, Warner-Lambert)

1954 - 1962

Senior Scientist

Warner-Chilcott (later, Warner-Lambert)

1962 - 1967

Senior Research Associate

Warner-Chilcott (later, Warner-Lambert)

1967 - 1970

Director of Diagnostics Research

Warner-Chilcott (later, Warner-Lambert)

1970 - 1977

Director of Diagnostics Research and Development

Warner-Chilcott (later, Warner-Lambert)

1977 - 1980

Vice President, Research and Development, General
Diagnostics Division

Babson Research Laboratories

1980 - 1987

President

Cirrus Diagnostics (formerly Pegasus Technologies)

1987 - 1992

President, Chairman and CSO

Diagnostic Products Corporation

1992 - 2006

Chief Scientist

Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics

2006 - present

Chief Scientist

  Honors

1975

Gerulat Award, American Association for Clinical Chemistry

1997

Inventor of the Year, New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame

1998

Van Slyke Award, American Association for Clinical Chemistry

2010

Siemens Lifetime Achievement Award

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Early Years 1

Childhood in Essex Fells, New Jersey. Father’s job. Mother and brother. Great Depression and his jobs. Didn’t like school, except for high-school chemistry class. Liked nature, woods, birds, animals. Making bombs. American Dyewood. Drafted at age eighteen.

College and Graduate School Years 13

Entered electrical engineering program at Rutgers University; also entered ASTRP (Army Special Training Reserve Program) so as to be an officer when drafted. Kicked out for missing a single class. Went to work for Cullen’s Photography; then for American Dyewood. Drafted and sent to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, ultimately to Japan. Arrived in Japan just after atomic bombs dropped. Cook and wire crew; several inventions. Went to Cornell University; switched major to zoology. Married Doris Lelong. Biochemistry class. Decided to attend graduate school. Went to Rutgers for master’s degree, working in James Allison’s lab on protein nutrition in cancerous rats. Decided to get PhD with Allison. First child, Betsy Linda, born.

Postdoctorate and Beginning at Warner-Chilcott 25

Went to FASEB (Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology) to find job. Theodore Winnick offered postdoc at University of Iowa. Similar work, better pay. Knew he wanted to do science, but not sure what. At end of year accepted offer from Ulrich Solmssen of Warner-Chilcott Laboratories with boss George Phillips and assistant Sylvia Malament. First project to develop serum standard. Invented Versatol, then Versatol-E, successful for many years. Invented PhosphaTabs. Real beginning of diagnostics. Interested in enzymes, blood coagulation, reactive dyes. Second child, James Norton, born.

Interest in Clinical Chemistry and Leaving Warner-Lambert 54

Technicon’s AutoAnalyzer automated clinical chemistry; Warner’s Robot Chemist lost out. Babson moved up in administration; became Vice President of Research for General Diagnostics. Susan, second wife, transferred to his group. Food and Drug Administration’s requirements. Clients mostly hospital labs, some doctors’ labs. Babson active in AACC (American Association for Clinical Chemistry); given first Gerulat Award. New layer of administration above Babson caused number of people to leave. Babson waited until benefits vested and then left. Babson’s nemesis and crew fired for falsifying results.

Babson Laboratories and Cirrus 74

Established Babson Research Laboratories. Patented refinement of General Diagnostic’s Blood Gas Control (skips gas phase). Babson sole employee. Consulted for Ortho Diagnostics for many years. Invented device to automate immunoassays. Showed model to John Underwood; Underwood introduced Babson to Arthur Kydd, venture capitalist; the three started Pegasus Technologies, later Cirrus Diagnostics. Babson Research Labs eventually shut down. Cirrus initially in school classroom. Tom Palmieri, mechanical engineer, joined company; then Arthur Ross, electrical engineer. Babson’s invention called IMMULITE. First one sold to Morristown Memorial Hospital, now in foyer at Siemen’s lab. Eventually contracted to build twenty-five; moved to new facility in Randolph, New Jersey. Babson designed CRP (Cardiac Risk Profiler) to automate lipid profile diagnosis. Twenty serum samples in thirty minutes, but Becton-Dickinson wanted one complete sample in twelve minutes, average length of doctor visit. Cirrus built it, but too costly.

DPC, Siemens, and Iterations of IMMULITE 96

Effects of Clinical Laboratory Improvement Act (CLIA) regulations. Back to working on IMMULITE. Sigi Ziering, president of Diagnostic Products Corporation (DPC) bought Cirrus; company became DPC Cirrus. Company culture still collegial. Second generation IMMULITE 2000 automated sample loading. Many competitors, but IMMULITE only instrument still being sold. Babson received Inventor of the Year Award from New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame. Next IMMULITE 2000 XPi for continuous flow instead of batch. Then SMS, now called VersaCell; totally automated sample selection. DPC Cirrus purchased by Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics.

Further Thoughts 125

Likes to write essays, mostly with himself in mind as audience. Built his own house with second wife, Susan. Number of trips to Africa, especially East Africa. Cheetah Conservation Fund. Raised two sets of raccoons. Van Slyke Award from AACC. Just received Lifetime Achievement Award from Siemens.

Bibliography 135

Appendix I: Our Responsibility to the Future 143

Appendix II: Letters to the Editor, 1958-2005 148

Appendix III: The Pepperoni Theory 155

Appendix IV: Dead as a Dodo 157

Appendix V: The Genesis of ‘Genesis' 159

Appendix VI: Calculating the Circumference of the Earth while Enjoying a Rum Punch on the Deck of My House in Virgin Gorda 163

Appendix VII: The Brave New World of Guns for Everyone 166

Appendix VIII: History of DPC Instrument Systems Division 169

Appendix IX: Lawyers Love Liability Lawsuits 173

Appendix X: Intelligent Designer Unmasked 176

Appendix XI: Remembrances 178

Index 238

  About the Interviewers

David J. Caruso

David Caruso earned a B.A. in the history of science, medicine, and technology from Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and a Ph.D. in science and technology studies from Cornell University in 2007. His dissertation research focused on the interaction of American military and medical personnel from the Spanish-American War through World War I and the institutional transformations that resulted in the rise of American military medicine as a unique form of knowledge and practice.

Caruso is the program manager for CHF's oral history program. His current research interests are the discipline formation of biomedical science in 20th-century America and the organizational structures that have contributed to such formation.

Sarah L. Hunter-Lascoskie

Sarah L. Hunter-Lascoskie earned a B.A. in history at the University of Pennsylvania and an M.A. in public history at Temple University. Her research has focused on the ways in which historical narratives are created, shaped, and presented to diverse groups. Before Sarah joined CHF, she was the Peregrine Arts Samuel S. Fels research intern and Hidden City project coordinator. Sarah is currently a program associate for the Oral History Program at CHF and leads projects that connect oral history and public history, including the oral history program’s online exhibits. She also contributes to CHF’s Periodic Tabloid and Distillations.

Hear It Firsthand

The Center for Oral History captures and preserves the stories of notable figures in chemistry and related fields, with over 425 oral histories that deal with various aspects of science, of scientists, and of scientific practices. For more information please visit CHF’s Oral History Program or e-mail oralhistory@
chemheritage.org
.

Support CHF

Help us preserve and share the history of chemistry and related sciences. Make a tax-deductible donation online.