David Nelson received his master’s degree in analytical chemistry from the University of Minnesota in 1957. He joined Beckman Instruments as a field sales engineer before moving to Cary Instruments, where he rose to the position of president in 1968. After the purchase of Cary Instruments by Varian Associates, Nelson became Varian’s marketing manager for instruments. He joined Hewlett-Packard in 1973, rising to the position of group marketing manager for all the company’s analytical products.
In 1980, frustrated by Hewlett-Packard’s resistance to using personal computers for analytical research, he founded Nelson Analytical with Harmon Brown. They developed the first chromatography data-system (CDS) software for desktop computers and soon created Turbochrom, the first CDS system for Microsoft Windows. Nelson’s innovations in CDS proved that personal computing technology could play a vital role in analytical chemistry and helped make Nelson Analytical one of the most dynamic companies in the analytical instruments industry.
Perkin-Elmer bought Nelson Analytical in 1988. Before he retired in 1991, Nelson held a number of positions with Perkin-Elmer, including vice president of strategic marketing. Upon his retirement he became a consultant on corporate restructuring and special market planning.
In the 1980s, in addition to his entrepreneurial activities, Nelson helped organize the Centcom Breakfast at Pittcon, an annual gathering of senior instrumentation managers and professionals, and served as chairman of the Communications Standards Committee of the Analytical Instruments Association (now the Analytical Life Science Systems Association), which developed the analytic data interchange (ANDI) protocols, standardizing the transfer of chromatography data between different CDS units.
Nelson was awarded the Pittcon Heritage Award in 2002.