American Chemical Society

Helen Free begins the interview with a discussion of her family and childhood growing up in Ohio. Free attended Poland Seminary High School in Ohio. She was greatly influenced by her English teacher at Poland and she thereon intended to become an English and Latin teacher. In September 1941, Free entered the College of Wooster. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in December of the same year, many young men either joined or were drafted into the armed forces, which forced them to leave academics behind. Because of this, Free's housemother encouraged female students to pursue careers in science. Without reservation, Free switched her major to Chemistry in which she received her BS in 1944. After graduation, Free immediately began working as a control chemist with Miles Laboratories. In 1946, she moved into the new biochemistry department at Miles, where she worked for her future husband, Alfred Free. She first researched assays of antibiotics before moving to dry reagent test systems. Working with tablets, Free helped develop tests to detect abnormal levels of bilirubin, glucose, ketone, and protein in urine. Later, Free worked with her husband to move the tests from tablets to strips, introducing Clinistix in 1956. Several other testing strips were developed and added to the market, including Uristix, Ketostix, Dextrostox, Labstix, and a still-current product, Multistix. When Bayer Corporation acquired Miles Laboratories, Free stayed with the company, moving into the Growth and Development Department, then becoming Director of Specialty Test Systems. Free formally retired in 1982, but continues to work as a consultant for Bayer Corporation's Diagnostics Division. Free served as the president of the American Chemical Society in 1993 and continues to be involved with the organization. Free is also affiliated with the American Association for Clinical Chemistry, Inc. and remains involved in several chemistry awareness programs, including the International Chemistry Celebration, National Chemistry Week, National Science and Technology Week, the National Chemical Historical Landmark Program, and Medical Laboratory Week. Free concludes the interview with a discussion of her children and thoughts on the National Registry in Clinical Chemistry.