Brookhaven Instruments Corporation has been pioneering advancements in particle characterization instrumentation for 40 years. To celebrate this milestone we spoke to one of Brookhaven’s founders, Dr. Bruce Weiner, about the company’s inception and earlier years.
Can you name a few scientists that have inspired you in your life or career?
“Let’s start with Prof. Carl Garland, my thesis advisor at MIT. Carl taught me how to wring every last bit of information out of data. We would spend hours going over every measurement.”
“Dr. Walther Tscharnuter, the co-founder of Brookhaven Instruments Corporation, was passionate about making good measurements. His instrument designs reflected that.”
“Ludwig Boltzmann was fundamental in the development of statistical mechanics and relating the macroscopic properties of matter to the microscopic movement of atoms and molecules. Subjects I loved and taught.”
What would be your advice for scientists just starting out today?
“Find something else to do. Unless you are willing to spend the time learning about all the subjects you didn’t take while in school. It was after my formal schooling that I learned a lot about colloid science, optics, light scattering, polymers, proteins and so much more that became the foundation for Brookhaven Instruments.”
What strategic decisions were made that changed the trajectory of the company?
“Walther had designed the first microcomputer-controlled correlator, continuing work he had done when we were postdocs under Prof. Ben Chu at Stony Brook. I decided to stay with Walther and we became Brookhaven Instruments Corporation.”
“About that time particle sizing above a micron dominated over small particles: proteins, nanoparticles, polymers and other colloids didn’t command much of the particle sizing business. Fraunhofer Diffraction, now known as Laser Diffraction, was beginning to dominate sizing above a micron. We decided not to pursue Fraunhofer Diffraction.”
“Dr. David Fairhurst was well established as a colloid scientist when we decided to hire him. It was his passion for characterizing colloids, especially for characterizing stability using zeta potential. And so we decided to add zeta potential determination to our repertoire.”
Can you think of any especially notable stories?
“I do have a story from our then distributor in Finland, a country never to be visited in February. It’s February, brutally cold, so the fellows advise Vodka and reindeer meat at their favorite restaurant. Reindeer meat is a bit greasy and Vodka partially solubilizes it. I asked if the reindeer herds in the north of Scandinavia had been affected by the recent drift of radioactive clouds a few years earlier from Chernobyl. They stared intently at the reindeer meat, said it didn’t glow, and pronounced it safe.”
What is the most memorable place that you’ve travelled to in your years with Brookhaven?
“Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, was very interesting. Took Emirati Airlines to Dubai a long flight and then another long flight to Addis Ababa because the airlines didn’t think it wise to fly over Yemen. Although Addis Ababa is a big city, I noticed goat herders moving a flock down the street in front of my small hotel. I was sitting outside and wished I had my camera. But it would never happen again. Except it did, maybe 30 minutes later.”
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
“Brookhaven was the first to combine DLS particle sizing with ELS zeta potential in one, small instrument. A few years later we added zeta potential using PALS. We were the first to do that. And when we added SLS at ninety degrees, we were the first to have all four types of light scattering in one, small instrument.”
“By using the full Mie scattering correction for the extinction efficiency used in the DCP, Brookhaven was the first in highly accurate and high resolution submicron particle sizing.”
“We trained scientists, postdocs, graduate and undergraduate students, as well as technicians, all over the world, in the use and meaning of light scattering results.”
What have you been up to since retirement?
“Only recently has consulting slowed down. I stopped going to Brookhaven at the end of December 2017. Began writing seriously my book, Let There Be Light, and that took two, two and a half years. As soon as it’s safe to travel, I would like to visit some of the many countries—about 45—in which I planted instrumentation.”