Teen Science Prodigy grew up to create a manufacturer of biotech lab instruments

As a teenager in Kannapolis, North Carolina, Roy T. Edelman built a science lab in his family’s basement and was one of four high school students invited to present prize-winning papers at Duke University. His paper is 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 as a laboratory equipment salesman. In his early 30s, he founded what became Spectrum Labs to make laboratory equipment, including a device he invented – a flarer, a cross between a flask and a beaker. He told friends he came up with the idea while 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 for the care of AIDS victims in the 1980s. He gave his collection of paintings related to alchemy to the Institute for the History of Science and funded research in quantum science.

Mr. Edelman died June 11 at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif., while reading a book (“The Rise of Athena” 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 research at age 18. “I’ve always been curious.”

Roy Truman Edelman was born on February 18, 1940 in Kannapolis. His father was an auto mechanic and racing car manufacturer.

In high school, he did research on plant growth. “It started with an argument with my science teacher,” he said at the time. “We discussed how much oxygen and how much carbon dioxide the plant uses in photosynthesis. We couldn’t prove anything definite.”

Determined to go beyond the guesswork, he spent more than $300 of his own money on lab equipment and supplies and built an apparatus to measure the gases given off by the plants. He also devised a way to grow a bean plant to 3 feet tall in less than a day, the Charlotte newspaper reported.

In the early years of the AIDS crisis, he motivated gay men to donate to patient care by organizing an annual series of parties known as Los Angeles Labor Day and creating a foundation to distribute the funds.

His love of architecture rivaled his passion for scientific research. At auction in 2021, he bought Villa Firenze in Beverly Hills for about $55 million. The 20,000-square-foot Mediterranean-style mansion featured 20 bedrooms, three guest houses, and the obligatory swimming pool, along with a maze and tennis, basketball, and soccer facilities.

He bought the Château de Balleroy, once owned by Malcolm Forbes, in 2019 and plans to hold scientific conferences there. His suite on the 94th floor of Park Avenue, in a slender tower rising nearly 1,400 feet, offered a view of New York and the Hudson Valley otherwise accessible only by plane. (Residents can look up at the helicopters in flight.)

He owned a private jet and saw no reason why a lunch party in Los Angeles couldn’t be followed up with an impromptu jaunt to Hawaii.

Its collection of 17th- and 18th-century alchemy-themed paintings includes works by David Teniers and Thomas Wyke. The paintings were exhibited by the Institute for the History of Science in Philadelphia, where he was a member of the Board of Overseers.

It funds research and scholarships related to quantum science, the quest to understand and control energy at its most infinitesimal levels, at the University of California, Santa Barbara, the University of California, Irvine, and the Cal Institute of Technology. Most of his legacy is dedicated to this research.

Mr. Edelman’s survivors include a sister and a niece.

Write to 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”.

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