Lamb Develops 'Alcometer' for Testing Ability, Capacity to Drive
Two Cambridge scientists, professors of chemistry at Harvard and M.I.T., have been instrumental in the development of a device which determines whether a person is too drunk to drive.
Arthur B. Lamb, Erving Professor of Chemistry, emeritus, and Frederick G. Keyes, Chairman Emeritus of the department of Chemistry at M.I.T., were employed by Alfred Bicknell Associates, a Cambridge firm, to perfect the Alcometer, which accurately measures a person's alcohol content by taking an electrochemical sniff of his breath.
Chief asset of the machine is the speed with which it works, enabling police to tell within seven minutes whether a person has too much alcohol in his blood stream to operate a car safely.
The subject breathes into a tube connected with the machine. Alcohol in his breath reacts with a mixture of iodine and oxygen to yield free iodine. Photo-electric measurements of the intensity of a beam of light passed through the free iodine in a starch solution record the alcoholic content on a dial.
"The device looks very promising to me," said Lamb. "It will undoubtedly be very significant in the control of drunken driving. Besides being valuable for legal evidence, it is useful for the person who wants to know if he has had too much to drink for safe driving."
Lamb added that the instrument is already in extensive use. The threat of an Alcometer road block scared all celebrants off the highways in Manchester, New Hampshire, last New Year's Eve. Bicknell Associates have received orders recently from Texas, Illinois and Canada. The Massachusetts State Legislature is now considering making the Alcometer official evidence in drunken driving prosecution.
Judge Lawrence G. Brooks '02 of Malden, said that "definitions of the amount of alcohol in human blood streams would protect many falsely accused persons suffering from illness instead of intoxication."
Since the human body burns up alcohol at the rate of one ounce per hour, a person could take three drinks in a two hour period and not be considered drunk.