Our History


For over one hundred years, Research Corporation for Science Advancement has pioneered trends in science and education, funded scientific research, and helped scientists solve some of the great questions in the history of science.

In the early 1900s, the industrial revolution brought significant advancements to society. But progress' evil twin, pollution, soon became a problem. In response to the smoke billowing from factories and refineries, Frederick Gardner Cottrell, a professor at University of California, Berkeley, invented the electrostatic precipitator, an air pollution device that uses the force of an induced electrostatic charge to remove particles from a flowing gas, such as air.

The electrostatic precipitator not only reduced air pollution, it also retrieved valuable metals that had previously escaped from smokestacks. It was a novel invention, one that is still in use today.

Cottrell was a remarkably altruistic man. He decided he would produce and sell electrostatic precipitators, and use the profits to support the research of other scientists. To that end, he established Research Corporation in 1912.

Success in the precipitator business made the Foundation's first grant possible in 1918. During the next 25 years, numerous projects were identified and funded, including E.J. Cohn's work with proteins; Kenneth Davidson's research in hydrodynamics; Robert Goddard's exploration of rocketry; Johnson O'Connor's development of aptitude testing; Ernest Lawrence's invention of the cyclotron; Robert Van de Graaff's invention of the Van de Graaff generator; and Roger Williams' discovery of pantothenic acid.

After several years of managing the electrostatic precipitator patent, Research Corporation staff realized they had developed a skill that could provide another type of help with scientific discovery: patent management. In 1937, the Foundation signed an agreement with MIT to manage all of the school's scientific patents; other institutions followed and RCSA was in the patent management business for the next 50 years.

During World War II, like many U.S. businesses, Research Corporation focused its resources on supporting the war effort. Research Construction Co. Inc., in cooperation with the Radiation Laboratory at MIT, produced for the government, on a "no profit and no loss" basis, $12 million worth of experimental radar apparatus. Research Construction ended with the war.

During the 1940s and 1950s, several inventors donated their patents to the Foundation. Some of these donations expanded the course of the Foundation yet again. For example, Robert Williams and Robert Waterman's donation of the patent for Vitamin B1 spawned the Williams-Waterman Fund for the Combat of Dietary Disease. As a result of the program, deaths from beriberi were eliminated worldwide.

Research Corporation has always kept abreast of science, changing direction as the world changed. By 1983, the Foundation had totally divested itself of the electrostatic precipitator. In 1987, Research Corporation separated from its technology transfer component when Research Corporation Technologies was established as a totally separate entity to the Foundation.

Today, Research Corporation is wholly a philanthropy. Over the years, the Foundation has supported the work of over 18,000 scientists: 40 have received Nobel Prizes, and countless others have made discoveries and contributed to the body of science.