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Helen Murray Free ’45 receives two national awards

Many students, professors, and alumni from The College of Wooster have been recognized for outstanding achievement in their academic fields, and the most recent notable alum is Helen Murray Free† class of 1945.

Free is considered to be a pioneering chemist and recently received two prestigious awards: the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, and the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) 66th National Historic Chemical Landmark designation.

The awards were presented to Free to recognize her work for the development of Clinistix, a breakthrough invention in the world of healthcare.† Free worked to invent the first dip-and-read diagnostic test strips for monitoring glucose in urine.† Free and her late husband, Alfred, developed the diagnostic strips in 1956.† Today, Clinistix provides a faster and more convenient way for diabetics to test their glucose levels.† Clinistix is a fairly simple, commercially available product that includes a plastic strip and impregnated paper tip. When dipped in urine, the strips provide almost instantaneous qualitative and quantitative detection of glucose that is present by changing color.†† The person using the strip will be able to tell the concentration of glucose levels in their body based on the intensity of the blue-green color the strip turns.† The color is darker if more glucose is present because the strips adapt to the amount of peroxide, and hence, glucose in the urine sample.

Researchers built upon the couple’s invention and developed a strip that provides multiple tests.† The progress made on the Free’s research and findings has now provided professionals in the healthcare field with a tool to help detect disease in patients. This innovation in addition to other tools used for people with diabetes and kidney disease will significantly improve patients’ way of life.

Dr. Amburgey-Peters, Chair of the Department of Chemistry said, “Quite simply, Helen M. Free is an amazing scientist and an amazing person.† Her energy and enthusiasm rival that of a 20-year-old but her knowledge and wisdom rival the top scientists and citizens of the past 80 years.”

The National Medal of Technology and Innovation (formerly known as the National Medal of Technology) is an extremely prestigious national award.† This award is the highest honor for technological achievement and recognizes those who have made critical innovations to America’s competitiveness and quality of life. The medal was established by the Stevenson-Wylder Technology Innovation Act of 1980 and first awarded in 1985.† The name of the medal changed in 2007 to recognize technology as well as innovation.

According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the medal is awarded every year to individuals, teams of up to four members, companies or divisions of companies, “for their outstanding contributions to the Nation’s economic, environmental and social well-being through the development and commercialization of technological products, processes and concepts; technological innovation; and development of the Nation’s technological manpower.”

President Barack Obama praised recipients of the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.† According to the press released published by the College, Obama stated, “The extraordinary accomplishments of these scientists, engineers, and inventors are a testament to American industry and ingenuity,” he said. “Their achievements have redrawn the frontiers of human knowledge while enhancing American prosperity, and it is my tremendous pleasure to honor them for their important contributions.”‘

The ACS National Historic Landmark designation is administed by the ACS Office of Public Affairs.† The designation recognizes seminal achievements in the history of chemical and science and technology.† The process to receive this designation is somewhat lengthy. Nominees for the designation are chosen by ACS local sections, divisions, or committees.† The candidates are then reviewed by the National Historical Chemical Landmarks committee, and finally the winner must be approved by the ACS Board of Directors. The recipient recieves a commemorative plaque and booklet written by the Office of Public Affairs.† The designation is designed to catalyze a local outreach program and focus public attention on the landmark.

Helen’s honors add her to the long list of Wooster’s notable alumni.

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