Theodore C. Rains, Ph.D.
Founder, High-Purity Standards
(Excerpted from Spectroscopy Magazine)
Dr. Theodore Rains, known as Ted, was born on a Kentucky tobacco and dairy farm in 1925. You can’t imagine the long hours and hard labor Ted and his three brothers worked to keep the family afloat during the Great Depression.
Ted graduated in 1942 in a class of 47 from Pleasureville High School with dreams of a medical career. He went to off to Morehead State University, paying his expenses by doing janitorial work. At the end of his first year, he had to return home to help keep the farm going. Over the next 4 years he spent his life working on the farm.
In 1948, Ted enrolled at Eastern Kentucky State University to major in pre-med. However, he later changed to chemistry and graduated with a B.S. in 1950.
Jobs were difficult to come by during this time but he was hired to teach at Breathitt County High School. Ted taught chemistry, physics and biology and remembers those days fondly, despite the $1,800 annual salary, which forced him to work at a local service station as well.
In 1951, Ted’s brother, John Rains, told him of a job opening in a chemical lab at Kentucky Synthetic Rubber in Louisville, Kentucky. Ted worked there (often the late shift) until 1952, when he found an opportunity in the high-radiation laboratory at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. Some of the materials Ted ended up working with were so hot that workers were only allowed 30 seconds in the room with them. As Ted described it, “You worked until your badge turned black”.
After two years in the “hot cell”, he started working in neutron activation analysis, and it was there that he learned wet chemistry. Ted later became a group leader in the reactor research program and directed development of methods for analysis using atomic absorption and emission spectroscopy.
At Oak Ridge, Ted met four scientists that changed his life: John Dean, Hobart Willard, Roy Koirtyohann, and Oscar Menis.
John Dean taught courses at the laboratory. Ted also took graduate courses at the University of Tennessee, and ended up co-authoring a number of papers with Dean. That friendship and collaboration continued, with a number of books including the popular 3-volume series “Flame Emission and Atomic Absorption Spectrometry”.
Hobart Willard visited Oak Ridge, and it was from him that Ted learned perchloric acid digestions that sparked his interest in sample preparation methods. Ted remembers Willard’s demonstrations of the perchloric acid dissolution of an organic sample, and how the careful addition of nitric acid to the solution at the right moment could prevent an explosion.
Roy Koirtyohann also worked at Oak Ridge during that period, and formed a friendship with Ted that resulted in their co-teaching courses in atomic absorption spectrometry.
And finally, Ted’s supervisor, Oscar Menis, co-authored many papers with Ted and was directly responsible for bringing him to the National Bureau of Standards – not the National Institute of Standards (NIST) – in 1965. At NIST, Oscar remained his supervisor, collaborator and friend until his death in the late 1970’s.
In the late 1960’s, Ted and W. Snelleman developed the first successful wavelength modulation background correction system for emission spectrometry, which is still in use today. In the early 1970’s, he and coworkers developed the first background correction system for atomic fluorescence spectrometry for analysis of Standard Reference Materials (SRMs). He also developed innovative methods for the determination of mercury, arsenic and selenium; was instrumental in designing methods for Pb blood analysis; and did pioneering work for real sample analysis using graphite furnace AAS.
It is perhaps for his contributions to the development of the SRM program at NIST that Ted is best known. While his activities included the development of methods to determine inorganic constituents in over 450 SRMs, his most important contribution was conceiving and developing the NIST Spectrometric Solution Standards Program, which he ran until his retirement. This was the most successful SRM in the history of the program.
Ted was also an international ambassador for NIST, giving lectures and courses in Scotland, Holland, Brazil, China, Mexico. Taiwan, India, England, Egypt, Vietnam, Japan, and Korea. Ted also served as president of the National SAS organization and was awarded Honorary Membership in SAS. He served on the editorial advisory boards of a number of journals, and was a co-chairman of the FACSS meeting. He had a Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee, and was an official “Kentucky Colonel”, an honor bestowed upon him by the governor of Kentucky for his scientific accomplishments.
After his retirement from NIST in 1990, Ted founded High-Purity Standards in North Charleston, SC. Today, High-Purity Standards is managed by his daughter and partner Connie Hayes, and has grown into a highly respected manufacturing company with customers around the world.