Masao Horiba

1 Dec 1924
14 Jul 2015
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Masao Horiba ( December 1, 1924 – July 14, 2015) was a Japanese businessman. In 1945, he founded Horiba Radio Laboratory, now Horiba Ltd., a manufacturer of advanced analytical and measurement technology.

Masao Horiba received several awards from the Japanese government including a national Blue Ribbon Medal, and was the first non-American to receive the Pittcon Heritage Award.

Masao Horiba was born on December 1, 1924, in Shimogyō-ku, Kyoto, Japan. He was the second son of Shinkichi Horiba, a chemistry professor at Kyoto Imperial University, and his wife Mikiko.

As a child, Horiba suffered from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. He attended Kyoto Teachers’ School’s Elementary School and Konan Junior High and Senior High Schools in Kobe, Japan.

Originally interested in mathematics and astronomy, Horiba was introduced to nuclear physics by one of his high school teachers at the Konan Boys’ High School.

He received a B.S. in physics, and hoped to study nuclear physics with Bunsaku Arakatsu at Kyoto University. However, further study in nuclear physics was not possible in post-war Japan. The American authorities had banned such study, and instruments and testing devices had been removed or destroyed.

Horiba, who was in his second year at Kyoto University, left the university in 1945 to start his own business, Horiba Radio Laboratory (HRL). In addition to producing electronic parts and repairing electronic instruments, they reconditioned batteries. The power distribution system after the war was unreliable, so there was a strong demand for storage batteries for electric lights that could be used in the case of blackouts.

Horiba acquired discarded storage batteries and selenium rectifiers which the company Nihon Denchi had produced for wartime use. Sales of Horiba’s reconditioned “Teidento” batteries were a profitable source of income for the Horiba company.

One of the instruments that Horiba produced and repaired was an electric-pulse oscillator, used in brain surgery. When an oscillator stopped working in the middle of an operation, Masao Horiba was called upon to make emergency repairs.

He got the instrument working so the surgeons could finish the operation, and then took the instrument home to examine it in more detail. Examination of the components showed that an electrolytic capacitor had failed.

When it proved difficult to buy low-cost reliable replacements, Horiba started producing electrolytic capacitors. By integrating quality control into the production process, he was able to produce high-quality products. He partnered with an investor but their plans to build a capacitor plant fell through when the Korean war caused Japanese metal prices to rise.

One of the instruments needed for the capacitor manufacturing processes was the pH meter. Imported pH meters tended to be unreliable, possibly because of Japan’s hot and humid climate. They were also expensive. Rather than buy imported pH meters, Horiba had built his own pH meters for capacitor testing.

He saw a potential market for reliable, low-cost pH meters in Japan’s food and chemical industries, and partnered with Kitahama Works, a major scientific instruments company, to sell them.

The pH meters were sold to fertilizer plants throughout Japan to monitor pH levels in the production of ammonium sulfate fertilizer for use in rice production. In 1953, “Horiba Radio Laboratory” was renamed “Horiba Ltd.”

The Masao Horiba Awards were established through the Horiba company to recognize young scientists in analytical science, outside the group companies, “who are devoting themselves to research and development of innovative technology in analysis and measurement.”

In 1982, Horiba received the Blue Ribbon Medal of Honor from the Government of Japan, awarded to individuals who have made significant achievements in public service or public welfare.

In recognition of his entrepreneurship and contributions to scientific instrumentation and to society, Masao Horiba was awarded the Pittcon Heritage Award in 2006, at the Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy and the Chemical Heritage Foundation.

The award is given to those “whose entrepreneurial careers shaped the instrumentation community, inspired achievement, promoted public understanding of the modern instrumentation sciences, and highlighted the role of analytical chemistry in world economies.” Masao Horiba is the first non-American to receive the Pittcon Award.

On July 14, 2015, Horiba died in his sleep at the age of 90.

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