Wallace H. Coulter


Wallace H. Coulter
Wallace H. Coulter
Associated organizations
Coulter Electronics
Fields of study
IEEE Morris E. Leeds Award


Wallace H. Coulter began his career as a broadcast station engineer. In 1937 he joined the General Electric X-Ray Corporation as a sales engineer in Manila, Shanghai, Singapore and elsewhere in the Far East.

When the Japanese approached the outskirts of Singapore, he was on one of the last ships to leave for Java. In 1942 he joined Press Wireless in New York as supervisor of electronic development.

After the war he developed electromedical instrumentation for Raytheon and served as sales manager for Mittelman Electronics in Chicago. A home laboratory was maintained for promising new ideas. Most important was a concept for the electronic counting of microscopic particles as they pass through a small aperture between two immersed electrodes. This principle is now the most widely used method for counting and sizing particles.

The method provides, for the first time, a means of sizing particles on the basis of volume, which is the most meaningful single measure of size. Biological cells or industrial particles can be counted and sized at a rate of several thousand a second.

A first commercial instrument was marketed in 1956, when Wallace and his brother, Joseph R. Coulter, Jr., launched Coulter Electronics, Inc. The wholly owned company has manufacturing plants in the United States, France, and England and sales/service offices in the principal markets of the world.

The apparatus dilutes, processes, and measures seyen parameters of a small blood sample, including red and white cell counts, volume of red cells, and hemoglobin. The data are printed on a patient card. Thousands of these units were in use throughout the world. It has been estimated that the method was used for over 90 percent of all automated cell counts.

In 1960 Wallace Coulter was presented the John Scott Award, established in 1816, for "ingenious men and women." Recipients include Madame Curie, Orville Wright, and Thomas A. Edison. Mr. Coulter was a senior member of the IEEE and Sigma Xi and has received honorary doctorates from Westminster College in Missouri, the University of Miami in Florida, and Clarkson College in New York.

Wallace's nontechnical interests included tropical gardening, oriental art, and reading on all subjects. However, his main interest was in engineering and research activities of the company. He has been issued fifteen patents as a sole inventor and has been coinventor on about forty-five more.