John R. Ferraro

Born: January 27, 1918 | Chicago, IL, US

John R. Ferraro was born and grew up in Chicago, Illinois. His father was a tool and die maker, his mother a seamstress in a coat factory. His parents had little education themselves but valued it highly for their children. Ferraro attended Richard T. Crane Technical High School. During the Great Depression Ferraro found a job at General Motors, where he worked before entering Illinois Institute of Technology, majoring in chemistry, working with Norman Kharasch. After graduation Ferraro entered the US Army, during which time he met his future wife. After World War II, Ferraro received a master’s degree from Northwestern University, working under Charles Hurd. He then became a junior scientist position at Argonne National Laboratory. He became interested in infrared spectroscopy, then far-infrared (FIR). He taught at Loyola University in Chicago for five years, leaving there as professor emeritus. He spent a year at the Lunar Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona. Ferraro then moved back to Argonne, where he spent a total of fifty-seven years. Ferraro discusses a wide variety of topics both professional and personal. He concludes by summarizing his own contributions to the field.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0700
No. of pages: 143
Minutes: 215

Interview Sessions

Michael A. Grayson
9 May 2011
Ferraro’s home, Elmhurst, Illinois

Abstract of Interview

John R. Ferraro was born and grew up in Chicago, Illinois, one of two children of Sicilian immigrants. His father was a tool and die maker, his mother a seamstress in a coat factory. His parents had little education themselves but valued it highly for their children. Ferraro attended Richard T. Crane Technical High School, where Francis Coulson fostered his interest in chemistry. Though the Great Depression continued, Ferraro found a job at General Motors, where he worked for three years before entering Illinois Institute of Technology, majoring in chemistry, working with Norman Kharasch. After graduation Ferraro entered the U. S. Army and was sent to Grand Rapids, Michigan, for training in meteorology. He met his future wife there. He spent the remaining three and a half years of World War II in the Burma-China-India theater and another six months awaiting a ship home. Finally back home, Ferraro received a master's degree from Northwestern University, working under Charles Hurd and leaving organic chemistry behind for good. Next he accepted a junior scientist position at Argonne National Laboratory, working in solvent extraction. He became interested in infrared spectroscopy, then far-infrared (FIR). Ferraro wrote what others have considered to be the seminal work on far-infrared spectroscopy and bought the first dedicated FIR instruments from Beckman Instruments and PerkinElmer. He taught at Loyola University in Chicago for five years, leaving there as professor emeritus. He spent a year at the Lunar Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona, learning Fourier transform (FTIR) spectroscopy. Ferraro then moved back to Argonne, where he spent a total of fifty-seven years. Ferraro discusses his students; his theory about innovation; his travels and interactions with colleagues around the world; his publications; his interest in history and his genealogy; and his continuing affiliation with three museums. He talks about instrumentation and the nexus between technique and equipment; what he sees as the enormous improvements in instruments; the serendipity of Fourier transform and what it has made possible; and miniaturization. Ferraro summarizes his own contributions to the field, particularly Raman, infrared, and far-infrared spectroscopy. Pointing out that his predictions of 1967 have come true, he theorizes about the future, discussing an expansion of ultraviolet Raman; terahertz spectroscopy; improved fiber optics; and greater importance of Raman to medicine. At the end of the interview, Ferraro talks in greater detail about his book Vibrational Spectroscopy at High External Pressures: The Diamond Anvil Cell and an article, "Recent Trends and Developments in Inorganic Far Infrared Spectroscopy," in Analytical Chemistry, as well as his publishing history and the number of awards he received for his work in the field of spectroscopy.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1941 Illinois Institute of Technology BS Chemistry
1948 Northwestern University MS Chemistry
1954 Illinois Institute of Technology PhD Physical Chemistry

Professional Experience

US Army

1941 to 1942
Analytical Chemist, Kankakee Arsenal

Argonne National Laboratory

1948 to 1980
Senior Scientist
1986 to 2005
Consultant

Loyola University

1980 to 1985
Searle Professor Chemistry

Honors

Year(s) Award
1973

Outstanding Achievements in Spectroscopy Award, New York Section of Society of Applied Spectroscopy

1973

Distinguished Scientist Award, Argonne Universities Association

1973 to 1974

Appointee, Hasler Award in Spectroscopy

1974

Honorary Member, Society of Applied Spectroscopy

1975

Meggers Award, Society of Applied Spectroscopy

1975

Achievement in Spectroscopy Award, Chicago Section of Society of Applied Spectroscopy

1986

Distinguished Service Award, Society of Applied Spectroscopy

1990

Honorary Member, Coblentz Society

1991

Emeritus Fellow, Italian Chemical Society

1996

50 Years of Infrared Spectroscopy Symposium Honoring John R. Ferraro, Eastern Analytical Symposium

1996

Editor Appreciation Award, Journal of Applied Spectroscopy

2004

Fellow of the Society of Applied Spectroscopy

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. Parents Sicilian immigrants. New Orleans, Louisiana. Father a tool and die maker, mother a seamstress in coat factory. One sister. Parents had little education, so valued it for children. Richard T. Crane Technical High School. Francis Coulson. Graduation in Depression. General Motors parts factory. Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT). Major inchemistry. Norman Kharasch

US Army Years
9

After graduation entered U. S. Army. Washed DuPont's chemicals for bombs. Grand Rapids, Michigan. Training as meteorologist. Met future wife. US Army Air Forces Intelligence. Burma-China-India (BCI) front. Three andone-half years of work in BCI. Six months in Calcutta, India, waiting to be senthome; betting on horse races.

Graduate Years and First Job
19

Northwestern University. Master's degree. Charles Hurd. Physical chemistry. Argonne National Laboratory (ANL). Fifty-seven years at ANL. Finished PhD. Solvent extraction. Infrared (IR) spectroscopy; far-infrared (FIR).

Argonne National Laboratory
27

More on far-infrared spectroscopy. Beckman Instruments's first FIR instrument. Bought first dedicated FIR instruments from Beckman and PerkinElmer. Senior scientist. Culture at Argonne. Freedom at work. Students. Education division

University Years
32

Early retirement. Searle professorship of chemistry at Loyola University inChicago. Alkaline metal solids. Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy. Academic politics. Professor Emeritus. University of Arizona's Lunar Planetary Laboratory. Gerard Kuiper. FTIR.

Back to Argonne
45

Consultant. Exposure to organophosphides; liver damage. Funding and projectapproval. Interaction with other scientists. Nearly all his PhD students atArgonne women. Patent. Publications. Innovation. Travel. Rome, Italy. University of Florence. University of Cagliari. University of Aachen. Publications. Kazuo Nakamoto. Raman spectroscopy.

General Topics
74

Organic chemistry. Inorganic field. Analytical chemistry. Pittsburgh Conferenceon Analytical Chemistry and Mass Spectrometry (PittCon). PittCon awards. Museums. Chemical Heritage Foundation. World War II Museum in NewOrleans. Chicago's World War II Italian-American Veterans Museum. Interest in history. Genealogy. History of CBI group.

Instrumentation
82

Early electronics in spectroscopy. Interferometer invention. Cooley-Tukeyalgorithm. Commercial FT interferometer. Computers. Serendipity. Fouriertransform. Miniaturization ancillary to techniques. Charge-coupled device(CCD). Diodes. CD diodes. Fiber optics. Miniaturization in opticalspectroscopy and Raman. Expense of lasers. Coherent anti-Stokes Ramanspectroscopy (CARS). Inverse Raman.

Publications, Colleagues, Funding
89

Colleagues and peers. Funding in United States and in Europe. HarwellLaboratory paper. Enjoyment of writing. Collaborations with instrumentproviders. Consultant at Digilab. Infrared spectroscopy used in war effort. Synthetic rubber. Vibrational Spectroscopy at High External Pressures: TheDiamond Anvil Cell and "Recent Trends and Developments in Inorganic Far Infrared Spectroscopy" in Analytical Chemistry. Region and coordinatedinstrument.

The Future
106

Ultraviolet Raman. Terahertz spectroscopy. Fiber optics. Raman and medicine. Predictions from 1967.

List of Publications
112
Index
133

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.