Klaus Biemann

Born: November 2, 1926 | Innsbruck, AT
Died: Thursday, June 2, 2016 | Brunswick, ME, US
Photograph of Klaus Biemann

Klaus Biemann was born and raised near Vienna, Austria. As pharmacy was the family profession, Biemann chose to study it at the University of Innsbruck. He soon developed an interest in organic chemistry, however, and shifted his focus, becoming the only graduate student in this field at that time at the University of Innsbruck. Upon finishing his degree, Biemann then received an appointment at the University of Innsbruck, in the context of which he discusses his experiences as well as the post-World War II university environment. After a summer at MIT working with George Buchi, Biemann decided that the American academic system offered more opportunities than the European one and he subsequently accepted a post-doctorate position at MIT. After two years he was appointed to a faculty position in the analytical division by Arthur C. Cope, the Head of the chemistry department. Early in his tenure at MIT, Biemann's research interest shifted from natural product synthesis to the mass spectrometry of peptides and alkaloid structure. He explains how his early work expanded the perceived applications of early mass spectrometry. 

Access This Interview

The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.

			

Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0279
No. of pages: 111
Minutes: 369

Interview Sessions

Michael A. Grayson
29 August 2006
Alton Bay, New Hampshire

Abstract of Interview

Klaus Biemann's oral history begins with a discussion of his youth near Vienna, Austria. As pharmacy was the family profession, Biemann chose to study it at the University of Innsbruck. He soon developed an interest in organic chemistry, however, and shifted his focus, becoming the only graduate student in this field at that time at the University of Innsbruck. Upon finishing his degree, Biemann then received an appointment at the University of Innsbruck, in the context of which he discusses his experiences as well as the post-World War II university environment. After a summer at MIT working with George Buchi, Biemann decided that the American academic system offered more opportunities than the European one and he subsequently accepted a post-doctorate position at MIT. After two years he was appointed to a faculty position in the analytical division by Arthur C. Cope, the Head of the chemistry department. Early in his tenure at MIT, Biemann's research interest shifted from natural product synthesis to the mass spectrometry of peptides and alkaloid structure. He explains how his early work expanded the perceived applications of early mass spectrometry. While talking about his research at MIT, Biemann reflects on the need to develop new experimental approaches to mass spectrometry, using IBM punch cards, writing computer code, etc. It was even difficult to get the structures of new alkaloids published, because of the novelty of the methodology used; he also discusses his funding from NIH, the first NIH Mass Spectrometry Facility grant, and support from NASA during the Apollo and Viking missions. After almost twenty years oftransforming the chemistry department, Cope left MIT and Biemann became the only analytic chemistry professor in the department. In 1958, Biemann began attending the annual meetings of the American Society of Mass Spectrometry, to which he and his research group contributed much over the ensuing forty years. Throughout the oral history Biemann discusses many topics relevant to the evolution of mass spectrometry in organic chemistry and biochemistry, including computerization, the environment, and space science. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1951 University of Innsbruck PhD Organic Chemistry

Professional Experience

University of Innsbruck

1951 to 1955
Instructor

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1955 to 1957
Research Associate
1957 to 1959
Instructor
1959 to 1962
Assistant Professor of Chemistry
1962 to 1963
Associate Professor of Chemistry
1963 to 1996
Professor of Chemistry
1996 to 2007
Professor of Chemistry Emeritus

Honors

Year(s) Award
1954

Fulbright Fellowship

1962

Honorary Member, Belgian Chemical Society

1962

Stas Medal, Belgian Chemical Society

1966

Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences

1969 to 1977

Team Leader, Viking Molecular Analysis Team

1970

Tricentennial Medal, University of Innsbruck

1973

Powers Award, American Academy of Pharmaceutical Sciences

1974

Outstanding Spectroscopist Award, Society for Applied Spectroscopy, New York Section

1977

Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

1977

Fritz Pregl Medal, Austrian Microchemical Society

1978

Newcomb Cleveland Prize (co-recipient), American Association for the Advancement of Science

1980

Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science

1981

Honorary Member, Japanese Society for Medical Mass Spectrometry

1983 to 1984

Guggenheim Fellowship

1986

Frank H. Field and Joe L. Franklin Award for Outstanding Achievement in Mass Spectrometry, American Chemical Society

1989

Maurice F. Hasler Award, Spectroscopy Society of Pittsburgh

1991

Thomson Medal

1992

Pehr Edman Award for Outstanding Achievements in Mass Spectrometry

1993

Elected Member, National Academy of Sciences

1994

Oesper Award, University of Cincinnati

1995

Beckman Award, Association of Biomedical Resource Facilities

2001

Award in Analytical Chemistry, American Chemical Society

2007

The Benjamin Franklin Medal in Chemistry

Table of Contents

Youth and Education
1

Growing up near Vienna, Austria. Pharmacy as the family profession. University of Innsbruck Pharmacy degree. Growing interest in organic chemistry. Lone organic chemistry student. World War II. Appointment at University of Innsbruck. Post-war university experience.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
6

Summer Program for foreign students. George Buchi. The American academic system. Post-doctoral fellowship. Post-war MIT. Chemistry department reforms under Arthur C. Cope. Analytical spectroscopy tools.

Mass Spectometry
12

Natural product synthesis. Research shifts to mass spectrometry of peptides. Conversion of peptides into polyamino alcohols. Logistics of running the mass spectrometer. Alkaloid structure determination. Expanding the early applications of mass spectrometry.

Academic Life
23

Book about mass spectrometry. Tenure. Difficulty publishing the structures of alkaloids determined by mass spectrometry. Using IBM punched cards. Writing computer code. National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health grants. First NIH Mass Spectrometry Facility grant.

Funding from NASA
28

Working with samples from space. Work with Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Building instruments for a Mars lander.

Analytical Chemistry
35

Arthur C. Cope leaving. Research Laboratory of Electronics. Only analytical chemistry faculty member. Importance of defining analyticalchemistry as a unique division.

History and Current State of Mass Spectrometry
40

Early mass spectrometry at universities. Current levels of computer automation. Environmental uses. Anti-doping. Tandem mass spectrometry.

American Society of Mass Spectometry
53

Began attending in 1958. Informal settings. Evolution of the meetings.

Scientific Innovation
57

Computers. Internet. Resolution. Nobel Prize for mass spectrometry. Advancement in space research.

Bibliography
72
Index
107
Appendix
112

About the Interviewer

Michael A. Grayson

Michael A. Grayson is a member of the Mass Spectrometry Research Resource at Washington University in St. Louis. He received his BS degree in physics from St. Louis University in 1963 and his MS in physics from the University of Missouri at Rolla in 1965. He is the author of over 45 papers in the scientific literature. Before joining the Research Resource, he was a staff scientist at McDonnell Douglas Research Laboratory. While completing his undergraduate and graduate education, he worked at Monsanto Company in St. Louis, where he learned the art and science of mass spectrometry. Grayson is a member of the American Society for Mass Spectrometry (ASMS), and has served many different positions within that organization. He has served on the Board of Trustees of CHF and is currently a member of CHF's Heritage Council. He currently pursues his interest in the history of mass spectrometry by recording oral histories, assisting in the collection of papers, and researching the early history of the field.