About the Coulter Foundation

Although the Coulter award will enable some of Pitt’s most accomplished scientists to conduct cutting-edge research in some of university’s most advanced and well-equipped laboratories, the awards were made possible in large part by a discovery that was made in far less sophisticated surroundings by a young inventor who was unable to complete his college education due to hardships of the Great Depression. Wallace H. Coulter may not be a name as widely recognized as Thomas Edison, Marie Curie, or Jonas Salk, but like his more famous counterparts, Coulter and the Coulter® Principle he developed made wide-reaching contributions to modern medicine, science, and industry.

The Coulter Principle was discovered in the 1940’s. The experiment he was conducting used electronic impedance to count and size microscopic particles suspended in fluid. This technique led to the development of the Coulter Counter. The device replaced the laborious practice of manually counting blood cells and was the first of many such instruments used in a wide range of applications, including the “complete blood count” or “CBC” which is the most commonly ordered diagnostic test in the world today.

The technique is also used for analyzing different blood components as well as determining the quality of many other items including paint, chocolate, and cosmetics as well as the purity of NASA’s jet fuel. The invention, one of 82 Coulter would patent throughout his life, was manufactured and sold by Coulter Electronics, an international company based in Miami, Florida; which provided the wealth Coulter would use to establish the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation before his death in 1998.