Celebrating Two Decades of Research Success

The upcoming Beckman Institute 20th Anniversary Celebration is looking like an A list event – one that everyone is invited to. Former and current University of Illinois and Beckman Institute officials and faculty are on the speakers list for the 20-year celebration, while the researchers, students, and staff members who are continuing the Beckman mission of interdisciplinary research in 2009 are being asked to join the party.

Set for April 16th, the 20th Anniversary Celebration will serve to reunite those who have been a part of Beckman history, honor them and those currently working at the Institute, and salute the past two decades of Beckman Institute successes.   

The importance of the Beckman Institute to people at the University of Illinois is made obvious by the list of speakers for April’s 20th Anniversary Celebration. Founding director Ted Brown will be the keynote speaker, while the two directors who followed him, Jiri Jonas and Pierre Wiltzius, will also give remarks. They will be joined by former University of Illinois President Stanley Ikenberry, chancellors and other campus officials, as well as the many others who were instrumental in the creation of the Institute and help ensure its continued existence as a premier center for interdisciplinary research.

Since its official opening in April of 1989 to today, the Beckman Institute has been a leader in a wide range of research fields such as neuroscience, nanoscale technology, and bioengineering. Beckman researchers have produced discoveries in biomedical applications like hearing aids and imaging techniques, new materials such as self-healing polymers, and in the science of the brain. In 2008, grant funding for research at the Institute was at an all-time high, new faculty were added, and research lines were generated while others continued to thrive and expand. 

The 20th Anniversary Celebration will honor the research that has taken place at the Institute and the many people who have made it all possible. What began more than 20 years ago with informal discussions about some type of privately-funded multidisciplinary research facility at Illinois led – through the efforts of people like Brown and Ikenberry and the generosity of Arnold and Mabel Beckman – to today’s interdisciplinary research-based Beckman Institute. And, thanks to current Institute officials, faculty, students, and staff, Beckman remains as vital and relevant in 2009 as when it first opened two decades ago.

To celebrate the people and research that made and continue to make the Beckman Institute a research leader, a program will be held in the auditorium, followed by a reception in the atrium. Interim Director Tamer Başar will begin the 20th anniversary celebration program in the auditorium with opening remarks at 3 p.m., followed by speakers like Chancellor Richard Herman, Pat Beckman, Wiltzius, Jonas, and Brown.

A reception will be held following the speeches with a timeline display of important events in the Institute’s history and refreshments.

The last time such an event was held at Beckman was in 1999, when Arnold Beckman returned for a celebration of his 99th birthday and the Institute’s 10th anniversary. Arnold, who used to play piano for a silent movie theater during his high school days, performed on a grand piano for celebrants in the atrium. Many people were present for that event, including NeuroTech research coordinator Kathy Bates, who remembers with amazement the 99-year-old Arnold’s virtuosity on the piano.

“They sat him in front of it and it was amazing,” Bates said. “His fingers were just flying. You talk about a man who could use both sides of his brain – wow. He was great.”

While many people remember Arnold’s playing, not many know that he also played piano during that same trip for a Boys and Girls Club dinner he attended in his hometown of Cullom. Beckman attendant Chris Roberts chauffeured Arnold and his daughter Pat around during that visit from their home in California.

“It was going to be his last time here,” Roberts said. “We were walking around in the building and they saw this small piano and his daughter said ‘hey dad why don’t you get on there and play a song?’ and he went over there and started playing. It was kind of surprising with him getting a little up there in age.”

While Arnold, who passed away in 2004 at the age of 104, won’t be around for this celebration, his daughter Pat is tentatively scheduled to join the festivities.

Arnold and Mabel Beckman donated $40 million through the Beckman Foundation in late 1985 to build the Institute. The building wasn’t completely finished until 1989 but personnel began moving into the facility in 1988 and faculty and more staff followed in the early months of 1989.

The official opening of the Beckman Institute took place April 7th 1989 with Arnold, Mabel, Brown, Ikenberry, Illinois governor James Thompson, and many others on hand. In one of the many speeches given that day, Arnold said that the Beckman Institute facility “exceeded all my expectations.”

Many of those same people will be back for the 20th anniversary celebration because of what the Beckman Institute means to them.

This article is part of the Spring 2009 Synergy Issue, a publication of the Communications Office of the Beckman Institute.