Frederick Gardner Cottrell, a professor at the University of California-Berkeley, invented the electrostatic precipitator in 1907.
The electrostatic precipitator uses the force of an induced electrostatic charge to remove particles from a flowing gas, such as air. Above, the laboratory at UC-Berkeley where Cottrell invented the electrostatic precipitator, an early "green machine."
At left, the electrostatic precipitator is turned off. At right, the precipitator is turned on. Not only does the precipitator reduce air pollution, it also retrieves valuable metals that previously escaped from smokestacks.
Cottrell (right) and colleague Walter Schmidt at an early electrostatic precipitator installation. The electrostatic precipitator 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.
Using the money generated by sales of the electrostatic precipitator, and working with Charles Doolittle Walcott, who was Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Cottrell founded Research Corporation in 1912.
The Smithsonian would play a part in Research Corporation's operations for many years, providing leadership and acting as a conduit for RC's early grants. Above, a stereoscopic image of the Smithsonian.
During the next 25 years, numerous projects were identified and funded, including Robert Goddard's exploration of rocketry;
Ernest Lawrence's work on the cyclotron, an accelerator of subatomic particles.
and Robert Van de Graaff's invention of the Van de Graaff generator, a transformative device that produces high voltages.
As a result of managing the electrostatic precipitator patent, Research Corporation staff developed skills in patent management. The Foundation signed an agreement with Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1937 to manage all of the school's scientific patents.
Other institutions followed MIT's lead and Research Corporation was in the patent management business for the next 50 years.
During World War II, Research Corporation, like many U.S. businesses, turned its resources to supporting the war effort, forming Research Construction Company.
In cooperation with the Radiation Laboratory at MIT, Research Construction produced for the government, on a "no profit and no loss" basis, $12 million worth of experimental radar apparatus. Research Construction was dissolved at the end of the war.
Over the years, several inventors donated their patents to the Foundation. Robert Williams (left) and Robert Waterman's (right) donation of the patent for Vitamin B1 established the Williams-Waterman Fund for the Combat of Dietary Disease.
Rachel Brown (left) and Elizabeth Hazen (right) donated their patent for Nystatin, named after their employer New York State, to the Foundation and the Brown-Hazen Research Fund was established to help support the work of researchers in the life sciences.
Cottrell's death in 1948 prompted a review of the Foundation's mission, resulting in an increased emphasis on grant making. Above, memorial services for Cottrell at the California redwood grove dedicated in his honor.
In response to changes in tax laws, Research-Cottrell was established in New Jersey in 1954 to build electrostatic precipitators. Originally a tax-paying stock corporation wholly owned by Research Corporation, The Foundation eventually exited the precipitator business, using the proceeds to create its endowment.
Research Corporation has supported many projects and managed patents for many inventions, including John Atanasoff's invention of the first automatic electronic digital computer;
James Van Allen's discovery of the Van Allen radiation belts;
Grote Reber's revolutionary invention of radio astronomy;
Donald Jones and Paul Mangelsdorf's invention of hybrid seed corn;.
and Charles Townes' (on left in photograph) seminal work on the maser and laser.
The Foundation also provided early support to the Chesapeake Bay Center for Field Biology, now the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) in Maryland;
the Five-College Radio Astronomy Observatory in Massachusetts;
the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter in Arizona;
and, most recently, the Large Binocular Telescope in Southern Arizona (pictured) and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, currently under construction in Chile.
Today, RCSA is solely a philanthropic foundation, working to identify and award grants to projects that hold promise of discovery and change. In this image, a student at Hamilton College in New York ponders an equation.
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 that have helped shape the body of science.
In 2012, RCSA celebrates one hundred years of encouraging the work of early career scientists. What will the next hundred years bring? Only the future will tell.