“It’s a blur, but the standout part is I did it, I succeeded, and I had fun.”
In 1941 Helen Free was studying to be a Latin and English teacher—that is, until Pearl Harbor changed her fate. With the country’s young men being drafted into the war, there was suddenly a need for more women in science. Free switched her major, and a long and illustrious career began.
Free, along with her husband, Alfred Free (1913–2000), revolutionized the field of medical and clinical urinalysis testing. Together they developed the “dip and read” test, which allowed diabetics to monitor instantly their blood glucose levels. The Frees retired in 1982 after making numerous other contributions to the field of urinalysis, though Helen served as a consultant to what is now Bayer Diagnostics until 2007. She and her husband hold several patents and coauthored two books on urinalysis.
Both scientists were inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2000 and the Science and Engineering Hall of Fame. In 2010 Free received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation from President Barack Obama, the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on scientists, engineers, and inventors. Free is also a champion of science education and outreach, and became president of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in 1993. The ACS instituted an award in her honor in 1995: the Helen M. Free Award in Public Outreach.