ACS President: Helen M. Free (1923-2021)

Served as President: 1993

She has traveled to all of the continents with a singular purpose of helping identify and combat diseases such as diabetes with simple chemical test strips

She was on her way to becoming a teacher until Pearl Harbor was bombed. At that point, with so many men at war, women were encouraged to pursue careers in science, so she switched her major to chemistry. She later called it the “most terrific thing” that ever happened to her


  • B.A., College of Wooster, 1944. Chemistry
  • M.A., Central Michigan University, 1978, Management

Career Highlights:

  • Quality control chemist, research chemist, Miles Laboratories (now owned by Bayer AG), 1944-1982
  • Adjunct Professor of Management, Indiana University, 1977-present
  • Consultant, Bayer AG, 1982-2010

Notable Accomplishments:

With her husband Al, developed the use of dry regents for use in test strips to test for diabetes in a doctor’s office or hospital setting. Additionally, developed the test strips for convenient, in-home testing of blood sugar levels. Developed strips to test for other key indicators of disease. Work culminated in development of Mutlistix, a single strip for urinalysis of 10 different clinical tests.

Major Awards and Honors:

  • Professional Achievement Award, American Society for Medical Technology, 1976
  • Garvan Medal, ACS, 1980
  • Harry and Carol Mosher Award, Santa Clara Valley Section, ACS, 1983
  • Service Award, St. Joseph Valley Selection, ACS, 1981
  • Physician’s Desk Reference Award, 1986
  • ACS Helen M. Free Award in Public Outreach, Helen M. Free, first recipient, 1995
  • Inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, 2000
  • National Medal of Technology and Innovation, 2010
  • The Frees’ work on Dip-and-Read Diagnostic Strips at Miles Laboratory, Elkhart. IN, was named an ACS National Historic Chemical Landmark, 2010
  • Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • Fellow, American Institute of Chemistry
  • Fellow, ACS, initial class, 2009
  • Elected member, Royal Society of Chemists
  • Honorary member, Society of Chemists, Indiana
  • Central Michigan University, Honorary D. Sc., 1992

Service to Science:

  • Board of Directors, National Registry of Clinical Chemists, 1991-1996
  • President, National Registry of Clinical Chemists, 1995-1996
  • Chair, ACS, National Chemistry Week Task Force, 1987-92
  • International ambassador of health and disease prevention with numerous Third-World tours for patient information

Did You Know

. . . that her first job was testing the quality of the creosote that fence posts were dipped into before being sold to local farms?

. . . that her decision that there must have been something more challenging than fence posts led her to Miles laboratories, producer of Alka-Seltzer, where she met her husband?

Former ACS President Helen M. Free