Arthur L. Babson
The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.
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.
University of Iowa
Babson Research Laboratories
Cirrus Diagnostics (formerly Pegasus Technologies)
Diagnostic Products Corporation
Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics
Gerulat Award, American Association for Clinical Chemistry
Inventor of the Year, New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame
Van Slyke Award, American Association for Clinical Chemistry
Siemens Lifetime Achievement Award
Table of Contents
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
About the Interviewer
David J. Caruso earned a BA in the history of science, medicine, and technology from Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and a PhD in science and technology studies from Cornell University in 2008. Caruso is the director of the Center for Oral History at the Science History Institute, president of Oral History in the Mid-Atlantic Region, and editor for the Oral History Review. In addition to overseeing all oral history research at the Science History Institute, he also holds an annual training institute that focuses on conducting interviews with scientists and engineers, he consults on various oral history projects, like at the San Diego Technology Archives, and is adjunct faculty at the University of Pennsylvania, teaching courses on the history of military medicine and technology and on oral history. 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 earned a BA in history at the University of Pennsylvania and an MA 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 worked both in the Center for Oral History and the Institute for Research at CHF and led projects that connected oral history and public history, producing a number of online exhibits that used oral histories, archival collections, and other materials. She also contributed to CHF’s Periodic Tabloid and Distillations.