The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.
Abstract of Interview
Catherine Fenselau grew up in York, Nebraska, one of two daughters. Her mother was a violinist and a holder of master's degrees who taught at York College, thus continuing a long family tradition of educated women. Catherine's father was a businessman in York. Always interested in science, first archaeology and ultimately chemistry, she attended Bryn Mawr College. The chairman of the chemistry department, Ernst Berliner, became the first of her three mentors. Fenselau received her PhD in organic chemistry from Stanford University, working in the lab of Carl Djerassi, who became her second mentor. Using mass spectrometry for organic research was new, so she felt she was more easily able to overcome any gender bias; her thesis was on the mechanisms of fragmentation. While in graduate school she met and married Allen Fenselau. When she went to Berkeley for her post doc, she entered Calvin Melvin's huge lab, working directly with Alma Burlingame and actually using a mass spectrometer for the first time. This instrument was the CEC 21-110, with electron ionization. She was funded by the American Association of University Women and later the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), for whom she analyzed surrogate moon rocks. Her husband accepted a position at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Fenselau also took a position there. At Hopkins she was able to study a broad range of biomedical problems, not just drugs, and her research shifted its direction more toward biochemistry, where she now feels she has ended up. Her third mentor, Paul Talalay, helped her buy her first spectrometer, the CEC 21-110 with photo plates, the machine she used for bacterial analysis and for research into anti-cancer treatments, studying drugs such as cyclophosphamide, about which she wrote one of her most-cited papers with oncologist Michael Colvin. Fenselau accepted the chairmanship of the chemistry department at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in part because she wanted to do more teaching. With funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Defense Advanced Research Programs Agency, and the National Science Foundation (NSF) she established a regional mass spectrometry center there and acquired several types of instruments, including a JEOL four-sector machine and eventually a MALDI Fourier transform mass spectrometer. Here she began her work analyzing whole proteins, publishing papers about using mass spectrometry to map protein topography and about HIV Gag proteins. Taking her MALDI instrument with her, Fenselau moved to University of Maryland, College Park, for a two-year stint as chairman of the chemistry department and completing her transformation into a biochemist. She was involved in the study of anthrax—Amerithrax—promoting the rapid detection and characterization of bacteria with mass spectrometry and she established the US Human Proteomics Organization (USHUPO), becoming its first president. She continues to teach and to conduct research in proteomics and bioinformatics. Throughout her interview Fenselau discusses fellow scientists, their contributions to mass spectrometry, and their career paths. And she talks about various mass spectrometers and their pros and cons; she says that analytical chemistry continues to be scorned, though many scientists do it, and that it prevails in the state schools. The interview concludes with her thoughts about her graduate students and her patents, emphasizing the importance of publishing, as well as her experiences in American Society for Mass Spectrometry.
|1961||Bryn Mawr College||AB||Chemistry|
|1965||Stanford University||PhD||Organic Chemistry|
University of California, Berkeley
NASA Space Sciences Laboratory
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
University of Warwick
Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology
University of Maryland, Baltimore County
University of Maryland, College Park
|1965 to 1966||
Fellow, American Association of University Women
|1970 to 1974||
NIH Research Career Development Award
ACS, Best Paper of the Year in Drug Metabolism Disposition
ACS, Garvan medal
Maryland Chemist Award, ACS Chesapeake Section
|1991 to 2001||
NIH Merit Award
Medal of the Spectroscopy Society of Pittsburgh
|1997 to 1998||
Robert and Jane Meyerhof Chair in Biochemistry
|1998 to 2010||
Board of Trustees, Maryland Science Center
Eastern Analytical Symposium Award for Achievements in Analytical Chemistry
Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science
Hillebrand Prize, ACS Capitol Section
Honorary Foreign Member of the Japanese Society for Mass Spectrometry
Braude Award, ACS Chesapeake Section
ACS Field and Franklin Award for Contributions in Mass Spectrometry
Thomson Medal, International Mass Spectrometry Foundation
Ralph Adams Award for Bioanalytical Chemistry, Pittsburgh Conference (or Spectroscopy Society of Pittsburgh)
Distinguished Contribution Award, American Society for Mass Spectrometry
Table of Contents
Born in York, Nebraska, one of two daughters. Mother violinist and holder of master's degrees; father teacher. Always liked science, especially chemistry. Family tradition of education.
Attended Bryn Mawr College. Ernst Berliner chairman of department, one of three mentors. Summers in labs. Faculty wives as lab managers. Organic chemistry specialization. Attended Stanford University for PhD. Carl Djerassi's class on steroids; wrote chapter and title of his book. Djerassi's natural products chemistry interest, exchange program with Brazil. Setup of Syntex Corporation and Djerassi's split time. Thesis on mechanisms of fragmentation with mass spectrometry. Fenselau's marriage to Allen Fenselau. Hearing about chemical ionization from Burnaby Munson and Frank Field. Steered by Djerassi to Melvin Calvin's lab at University of California, Berkeley, for postdoc. Lab huge; worked with Alma Burlingame. First time she was able to use instrument; CEC 21-110 with electron ionization. No salary; grant from American Association of University Women and then National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Analyzing moon rocks.
Two-career problem. Both Fenselaus hired by Johns Hopkins University. Mass spectrometrists needed, so gender less a negative then. First trained mass spectrometrist to be hired by a US medical school. Discussion of other lab members and where they went. Funding. Able to perform broad spectrum of biomedical research. National Science Foundation (NSF) bought her first instrument; took year to make CEC 21-110 with photo plates. Not much teaching. Paul Talalay third mentor. Her first grant and Biemann's influence. American Society for Mass Spectrometry (ASMS). One of favorite and most-cited papers on bacterial analysis with first machine; Michael Colvin collaborator. Cyclophosphamide metabolites. Technological improvements. Gas chromatography. Don Hagge. Ian Jardine.
Using gas chromatography on cancer drugs. Shift to more bio-analytical thinking required for tenure in medical school. Synthesizing and analyzing glucuronides. Committee member to study faculty salaries and gender. Unprompted raise. Team grant, then her own from National Institutes of Health (NIH) and NSF. No graduate students in Talalay's department. Given regional instrument center and Kratos MS50 from NSF. Michael Gross at University of Nebraska. Discussion of instruments and countries of origin. Marvin Vestal and electrospray. Published first structure elucidation of fast atom bombardment (FAB); much cited. Insulin spectra. Obtained second MS with liquid chromatography and thermospray. More favorite papers. James Yergey. Plamen Demirev. Competition. Work on Laetrile for Food and Drug Administration (FDA) got product removed from market. Her only paper in Science.
Wanting to teach more, moves to University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). Begins protein work, analyzing whole proteins. Proteomics. Also was chairman of department. Freeman Hrabowski an excellent president. NSF funded JEOL four-sector machine, biggest on campus. FAB upgraded to electrospray; cost a million dollars. Japanese engineers set up in four days. Arginine. Seldom-cited paper about using mass spectrometry to map protein topography. Paper about HIV Gag proteins. Graduate students. Proteomics new buzzword; tripled ASMS membership. Success at UMBC: doubled department space; nuclear magnetic resonance developed as its strength. Students good, international, especially Chinese. Analytical chemistry becoming useful and attractive discipline.
Moved to University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP) as department chair. Involved in study of Amerithrax. Rapid detection of bacteria with mass spec. Department much larger; spent two years as chair, hired good faculty. School's budget, tuition, lab costs, necessary furloughs. Lab composition: all graduate students, no postdocs, mostly women. Startup package included AB Sciex quadrupole-time of flight (Q-TOF); also has Shimadzu matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization-time of flight (MALDI-TOF). Establishes US Human Proteomics Organization (USHUPO). Funding from Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA): rapid characterization, not biochemistry, of bacteria. Collaboration with Demirev. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigation of Amerithrax. Revisiting bacteria studies whenever technology improves. Using Bacillus anthracis non-pathogenic strain. Nathan Edwards and bioinformatics. Analytical chemistry looked-down-upon; mostly done at state schools. Patents: income from them; who gets them. Importance of publishing. Theory of viruses not yet fully tested.
"Top-down" analysis. Drift ion mobility. Separation techniques. Getting into Djerassi's lab; his management and mentoring. Lab colleagues and their contributions. Yetrib Hathout, Plamen Demirev, Ian Jardine. Richard van Breemen. More about early US Army work. Meeting Victor Tal'roze at international conference. Month at Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. Collaborating with Igor Kaltashov on gas-phase ions. Russian training quantitative and vigorous. Barbara Larsen. Henry Fales' on NIH's willingness to recognize and fund mass spectrometry. Other collaborations. Robert Cotter, her husband. Koichi Tanaka and going to the Nobel Prize ceremony. Love of Japan and Japanese culture. Women in mass spectrometry and chemistry in general. Samir Hanash and International HUPO. Proteome effort worldwide, unlike genome project. Her children. Changes in ASMS.
About the Interviewer
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.