Catherine Fenselau

Born: April 15, 1939 | York, NE, US
Fenselau_Catherine_Headshot

Catherine Fenselau grew up in York, Nebraska. 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. For her postdoc at Berkeley, she entered Calvin Melvin's lab, working directly with Alma Burlingame, then at Johns Hopkins University she worked on a broad range of biomedical problems, and her research shifted its direction more toward biochemistry. Her third mentor, Paul Talalay, helped her buy her first spectrometer, which she used for bacterial analysis and for research into anti-cancer treatments. Fenselau accepted the chairmanship of the chemistry department at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where she established a regional mass spectrometry center. She began analyzing whole proteins, publishing papers about using mass spectrometry to map protein topography and about HIV Gag proteins. Fenselau moved to University of Maryland, College Park, for a two-year stint as chairman of the chemistry department. 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.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0710
No. of pages: 220
Minutes: 338

Interview Sessions

Michael A. Grayson
13-14 April 2012
University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland

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.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1961 Bryn Mawr College AB Chemistry
1965 Stanford University PhD Organic Chemistry

Professional Experience

University of California, Berkeley

1966
Postdoctoral Fellow

NASA Space Sciences Laboratory

1967
Postdoctoral Fellow

Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

1967 to 1987
Instructor to Professor, Department of Pharmacology and Molecular Science

University of Warwick

1980
Visiting Professor

Kansai University

1986
Visiting Professor

Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology

1991
Exchange Lecturer

University of Maryland, Baltimore County

1987 to 1988
Professor and Chair, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
1995 to 1996
Interim Dean of the Graduate School and Associate Vice President for Research

University of Maryland, College Park

1998
Professor, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
1998 to 2000
Chair, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
2007
Affiliate faculty, Fischell Department of Bioengineering

Honors

Year(s) Award
1965 to 1966

Fellow, American Association of University Women

1970 to 1974

NIH Research Career Development Award

1982

ACS, Best Paper of the Year in Drug Metabolism Disposition

1985

ACS, Garvan medal

1989

Maryland Chemist Award, ACS Chesapeake Section

1991 to 2001

NIH Merit Award

1993

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

1999

Eastern Analytical Symposium Award for Achievements in Analytical Chemistry

2001

Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science

2003

Hillebrand Prize, ACS Capitol Section

2006

Honorary Foreign Member of the Japanese Society for Mass Spectrometry

2006

Braude Award, ACS Chesapeake Section

2008

ACS Field and Franklin Award for Contributions in Mass Spectrometry

2009

Thomson Medal, International Mass Spectrometry Foundation

2010

Ralph Adams Award for Bioanalytical Chemistry, Pittsburgh Conference (or Spectroscopy Society of Pittsburgh)

2012

Distinguished Contribution Award, American Society for Mass Spectrometry

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

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.

Education Years
7

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.

First Job
42

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.

Continuing at Hopkins
63

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.

Moving South
92

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.

Further South
120

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.

Recap and General Thoughts
160

"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.

Index
205

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.