Pittcon Heritage Award
2013 Winner: Günther Laukien
Günther Laukien was selected by the Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy (Pittcon) and the Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF) to receive the 2013 Pittcon Heritage Award. The award was bestowed posthumously on the founder of Bruker Corporation in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on March 17 during Pittcon 2013.
About the Awardee
Born in 1924 in Eschringen, Germany, Günther Laukien was an experimental physicist, an entrepreneur, and the chief founder of Bruker Physik AG (now, the Bruker Corporation). Laukien pioneered many of the first commercially successful nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometers. Laukien spearheaded the practical commercialization of NMR spectrometry and, later, Fourier-transform (FT) NMR. More than any other entrepreneur of his era, Laukien was responsible for the globalization of NMR technology.
Extensive research in NMR after receiving his Ph.D. convinced Laukien of the power and seemingly endless scope of application for the technology. In 1960 he made an entrepreneurial leap, establishing a small start-up company, Bruker Physik AG, to develop and commercialize NMR. Then located in the backyard of a Karlsruhe residence, Bruker Physik grappled both with developing NMR technology and competing with Varian, the leading manufacturer of NMR instruments at that time. After several years producing commercially successful NMR spectrometers, in 1967 the fledgling company produced its HFX-90 spectrometer, the first fully transistorized NMR spectrometer. This cutting-edge and innovative transistorization of the commercial instrument opened up new experimental possibilities to a much wider group of researchers.
The HFX-90 was only the beginning for Laukien. In the late 1960s he established the first overseas Bruker office in Elmsford, New York. From this point onward Laukien pursued a massive campaign both to produce and globalize NMR instruments. After important progress in the understanding of FT-NMR (which used Fourier transform to differentiate NMR frequencies and had unprecedented impacts on the analysis of 13C,) Bruker produced the WH-90 in 1971, the first FT-only NMR spectrometer, and went global with it. After establishing offices throughout Europe, Laukien expanded to then untapped commercial markets. By the mid-1970s Bruker’s reach and impact extended across many geopolitical boundaries; Laukien set up offices in Israel, Australia, Taiwan, and South Korea. He established a subsidiary, Bruker SA, in France and a facility in Japan, and actively sold NMR and FT-NMR instruments around the globe, even in the Soviet U.S.S.R., Eastern Europe, China, and Venezuela.
Bruker’s growth and worldwide distribution network allowed Laukien to expand into the production of new types of analytical instruments—mass spectrometers and FT-infrared spectrophotometers—as well as medical devices: mobile defibrillators and NMR tomography units for clinical imaging. Moreover, in 1978 Laukien’s global success led IBM to invest in Bruker and collaborate with it in developing and producing a broad suite of analytical instruments (like GC, LC, NMR, and IR) that were sold in the United States under the IBM label. The Bruker-IBM partnership lasted 10 years, at which time Bruker purchased IBM’s interest and integrated a portion of the partnership into its ongoing operations.
In his later years Laukien devoted much of his time to developing mass spectrometry. He remained strongly involved in Bruker while he fought cancer in the 1990s. Günther Laukien died in 1997.
About the Pittcon Heritage Award
The Pittcon Heritage Award is jointly sponsored by the Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy (Pittcon) and the Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF). This award recognizes outstanding individuals whose entrepreneurial careers shaped the instrumentation and laboratory supplies community, inspired achievement, promoted public understanding of the modern instrumentation sciences, and highlighted the role of analytical chemistry in world economies.
The award is presented annually at a special ceremony during Pittcon. The recipient’s name and achievements are added to a roster of Pittcon Hall of Fame members that includes such industry pioneers as Arnold Beckman, Robert Finnigan, Chester Fisher, Aaron Martin, James Waters, and others.
About the Sponsors
Pittcon is the largest and most inclusive conference and exposition on laboratory science and instrumentation in the world. The annual event brings together more than 30,000 conferees and exhibitors from more than 70 countries.
The Chemical Heritage Foundation is a collections-based nonprofit organization that preserves the history and heritage of chemistry, chemical engineering, and related sciences and technologies. The collections are used to create a body of original scholarship that illuminates chemistry’s role in shaping society. In bridging science with the humanities, arts, and social sciences, CHF is committed to building a vibrant, international community of scholars; creating a rich source of traditional and emerging media; expanding the reach of our museum; and engaging the broader society through inventive public events.