As a teenager in Kannapolis, NC, Roy T. Eddleman built a science lab in his family’s basement and was one of four high school students invited to present award-winning papers at Duke University. His paper was called “Quantitative and Qualitative Aspects of Plant Growth”.
He later dropped out of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and moved to Los Angeles, where he found work selling laboratory equipment. Around the age of 30, he founded what became Spectrum Labs to manufacture laboratory equipment, including a device he invented – the fleeker, a cross between a flask and a beaker. He told friends he got the idea by mixing Bloody Marys for brunch.
His company eventually specialized in making tools and supplies for biotech companies, including membranes used to filter proteins used in drug production. In 2017, Repligen Corp. bought Spectrum for about $359 million.
Mr. Eddleman bought Château de Balleroy in Normandy and an apartment at 432 Park Ave. in Manhattan. He donated and raised funds to care for AIDS victims in the 1980s. He gave his collection of alchemy-related paintings to the Institute of the History of Science and funded research in the quantum sciences.
Mr. Eddleman died on June 11 at his home in Beverly Hills, California, while reading a book (“The Rise of Athens” by Anthony Everitt). He was 82 years old and had heart disease.
“It’s just curiosity,” he told The Charlotte News when interviewed about his scientific research at age 18. “I’ve always been curious.”
Roy Truman Eddleman was born on February 18, 1940, in Kannapolis. His father was an automobile mechanic and race car builder.
In high school, he did research on plant growth. “It started with an argument with my science teacher,” he said at the time. “We were discussing how much oxygen and how much carbon dioxide a plant uses in photosynthesis. We couldn’t prove anything clear.”
Determined to go beyond guesswork, he spent more than $300 of his own money on lab equipment and supplies and built an apparatus to measure the gases discharged from the plants. He also invented a way to grow a bean plant to a height of 3 meters in less than a day, the Charlotte newspaper reported.
During the early years of the AIDS crisis, he motivated gay men to donate to patient care by organizing a series of annual parties known as LA Labor Day and created a foundation to distribute the funds.
His love of architecture rivaled his passion for scientific research. In a 2021 auction, he bought Villa Firenze in Beverly Hills for about $55 million. The 20,000-square-foot Mediterranean-style mansion featured 20 bedrooms, three guesthouses, and the obligatory swimming pool, along with a maze and tennis, basketball, and soccer facilities.
He bought Château de Balleroy, once owned by Malcolm Forbes, in 2019 and made plans to hold scientific conferences there. His apartment on the 94th floor on Park Avenue, in a slender tower rising some 1,400 feet, offered views of New York and the Hudson Valley otherwise available only from airplanes. (Residents can watch the helicopters in flight.)
He owned a private jet and saw no reason why a lunch party in Los Angeles couldn’t be extended with an impromptu jaunt to Hawaii.
His collection of 17th and 18th century paintings on alchemy included works by David Teniers and Thomas Wijck. The paintings are exhibited by the Institute of the History of Science in Philadelphia, where he was a member of the board of trustees.
He funded research and scholarship related to quantum science, the quest to understand and harness energy at its smallest levels, at the University of California, Santa Barbara, the University of California, Irvine, and the California Institute of Technology. Most of his wealth is devoted to that research.
Mr. Eddleman’s survivors include a sister and a niece.
Write in James R. Hagerty at [email protected]
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It appeared in the July 9, 2022 print edition as “Teen Science Prodigy Built Biotech Firm”.