Franz Hillenkamp

Born: March 18, 1936 | Essen, DE
Died: August 22, 2014 | Münster, DE
Photograph of Franz Hillenkamp

Franz Hillenkamp was born in Essen, Germany. Having chosen the science and math track in the Gymnasium Hillenkamp went on to major in electrical engineering at Technische Universität München (TUM). He interrupted his diploma thesis on vacuum systems to accept a Fulbright Scholarship to Purdue University, where he obtained a master's degree. Returning to TUM he finished his thesis and married. Hillenkamp's first job was with the Federal Department of Science and Technology, where he taught himself lasers and worked with them for fourteen years. During this time he also got his PhD, writing his thesis on energy meters for Q-switch lasers. Hillenkamp met Raimund Kaufmann and the two began a long-lasting collaboration; eventually this collaboration led Hillenkamp and Michael Karas to the invention of, first, laser-induced microprobe mass analysis, or LAMMA; and then matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization, or MALDI, which has been profoundly important in biology. Researching the safety of lasers led Hillenkamp to found a laser-tissue interaction laboratory; this lab became the prototype for the Wellman Center for Photomedicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. Hillenkamp held a position at J. W. Goethe Universität in Frankfurt before moving to the University of Münster, where he became chair and Director of the Department of Medical Physics and Biophysics. At that time Münster was considered the center of mass spectrometry in Germany. Hillenkamp has also held visiting positions at Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, Università degli Studi di Napoli, University of Maryland in Munich, and other places. He helped develop a submission for the Excellence Initiative before he retired.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0704
No. of pages: 165
Minutes: 384

Interview Sessions

Michael A. Grayson
20 August 2012
University of Münster, Münster, Germany

Abstract of Interview

Franz Hillenkamp was born in Essen, Germany, one of four children. The family, except for the father, who had to remain in Essen because he was a judge, soon moved to Düns, Austria, because of World War II. Hillenkamp's early life in the mountains inspired a lasting love of mountains and mountain sports. After the War the family moved back to Germany to live with Franz's maternal grandmother. Hillenkamp credits his grandmother with much of his love of learning. Having chosen the science and math track in the Gymnasium. Hillenkamp went on to major in electrical engineering at Technische Universität München (TUM). He interrupted his diploma thesis on vacuum systems to accept a Fulbright Scholarship to Purdue University, where he obtained a master's degree. Returning to TUM he finished his thesis and married. Hillenkamp's first job was with the Federal Department of Science and Technology, where he taught himself lasers and worked with them for fourteen years. During this time he also got his PhD, writing his thesis on energy meters for Q-switch lasers. Hillenkamp met Raimund Kaufmann and the two began a long-lasting collaboration; eventually this collaboration led Hillenkamp and Michael Karas to the invention of, first, laser-induced microprobe mass analysis, or LAMMA; and then matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization, or MALDI, which has been profoundly important in biology. Researching the safety of lasers led Hillenkamp to found a laser-tissue interaction laboratory; this lab became the prototype for the Wellman Center for Photomedicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. Hillenkamp held a position at J. W. Goethe Universität in Frankfurt before moving to the University of Münster, where he became chair and Director of the Department of Medical Physics and Biophysics. At that time Münster was considered the center of mass spectrometry in Germany. Hillenkamp has also held visiting positions at Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, Università degli Studi di Napoli, University of Maryland in Munich, and other places. He talks about the many important changes to mass spectrometry, including FAB, SIMS, and electrospray, and their influence on biology and medicine. He laughingly describes the contortions needed to install his first LAMMA in the Deutsches Museum; he laments having overlooked the surgical benefits of lasers in his early studies of lasers' dangers. Hillenkamp explains some of the intricacies and drawbacks of patents, emphasizing the importance of the exchange of information in science. He maintains that his professional relationships were collaborations or friendly competitions, good for all. He never used a commercial spectrometer, except for the first LAMMA he invented Hillenkamp retired but continued his work and his play. He says he can no longer work well in the lab, so he mentors and helps others. He helped develop a submission for the Excellence Initiative before he retired. Unfortunately, a recent accident has put a crimp in his first love, skiing, but he spent his seventy-fifth birthday skydiving. He has included in the interview letters pertaining to the award of the Nobel Prize to Koichi Tanaka; Hillenkamp is still disappointed about what many spectrometrists consider a serious error by the Nobel Committee, but he is not bitter. Hillenkamp has won many other awards and has published many oft-cited articles and a textbook that is now in its second edition. He believes that his lab's work focused most importantly on the contributions of MALDI to biology and medicine.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1961 Purdue University MS Electrical Engineering
1962 Technische Universität München Diploma Electrical Engineering
1966 Technische Universität München PhD Electrical Engineering

Professional Experience

Universität München

1962 to 1963
Research Assistant, Institut für Strahlenbiologie (Institute for Radiation Biology)

Gesellschaft für Strahlen und Umweltforschung

1963 to 1968
Research Scientist
1968 to 1976
Deputy Head, Department of Coherent Optics
1976 to 1986
Research Consultant

University of Maryland, Munich Campus

1963 to 1976
Part-time Lecturer of Physics

J.W. Goethe Universität

1982 to 1986
Professor, Medical Faculty

Harvard Medical School

1985 to 2006
Visiting Professor

Massachusetts General Hospital

1985 to 2014
Research Physicist

Università degli Studi di Napoli

1986
Visiting Professor, Seconda Facoltà di Medicina

Texas A&M University

1999
Visiting Professor

Universität Innsbruck

2000
Visiting Professor

Sequenom Inc.

2001 to 2014
Chief Consultant, Mass Spectrometry

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

2003
G. Frederick Memorial Lecture

Honors

Year(s) Award
1997

Award for Distinguished Contributions in Mass Spectrometry of the American Society for Mass Spectrometry

2000

Award for Molecular Bioanalytics of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Biochemie und Molekularbiologie

2001

Wolfgang Paul Lecture, German Society for Mass Spectrometry

2001

Member, Academy of Sciences of the State of North Rhein-Westphalia Germany

2003

Award for Outstanding Contributions to Biomolecular Technologies and Applications of the Association of Bioanalytical Research Facilities (ABRF)

2003

Thompson Medal of the International Mass Spectrometry Society

2003

Fresenius Award of the German Chemical Society (GDCh)

2003

Beckurts Preis of the German Helmholtz Association

2006

Torbern Bergman Medal of the Swedish Chemical Society

2011

Caroline and William Mark Memorial Award of the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery

2012

Honorary Member, German Society for Mass Spectrometry

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Born in Essen, Germany. Family background. Early childhood in Düns, Austria. Education, religion, dialect, life in mountains. Back to grandmother's home in British-occupied Germany for gymnasium. Importance of education to family. Choosing math and science track.

College Years
15

Technische Universität München, majoring in electrical engineering, though he preferred physics. Interrupted diploma thesis work for Fulbright to Purdue University. Max Knoll thesis advisor. Thesis on vacuum systems. Hiked, skied in mountains, played violin. Married.

First Job
29

Accepted position at Federal Department of Science and Technology. Worked with lasers; radiation and environmental research. PhD thesis on energy meter for Q-switch lasers. Also built his own lasers at Siemens. Homemade Q-switch. Dieter Röss. Funding. Ruby lasers; argon; neodymium-YAG (yttrium aluminum garnet).

Mass Spectrometry's Entry
37

Raimund Kaufmann and calcium ions. Collaboration invented/developed matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization (MALDI) spectrometer. Working at Munich Eye Clinic; photocoagulation; retinal ablation. Veit-Peter Gabel; Reginald Birngruber; animal experiments. Laser-tissue interaction lab. Met John Parrish; together established Wellman Center for Photomedicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. Visiting professor at Harvard University for more than twenty years. With Kaufmann obtained funding from Volkswagen Foundation for "risky project"; borrowed quadrupole mass spectrometer deficient without laser desorption.

Continuing MALDI Work
75

Clusters. Aromatic aminos. Dipeptides. Leybold-Heraeus GmbH agreed to produce LAMMA 1000; sold fifty-seventy instruments. Overlooked benefits of lasers in order to concentrate on danger to eyes; missed laser surgery for eyes. Michael Karas becomes colleague, good friend. Editing second edition of textbook with Jasna Peter-Katalinić. Greater sensitivity required by biology; electrospray. Newer developments included secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS), developed by Alfred Benninghoven, and fast atom bombardment (FAB) More about relationship with Karas and development of MALDI. Moved to Münster to become Chair and Director of Department of Medical Physics and Biophysics. Working around University rules to "borrow" LAMMA for Deutsches Museum. Pictures of insulin spike; show improvement in spectra quality. Collaboration and friendly competition with Frank Field, Brian Chait, Ronald Beavis. Using 2,5 DHB. Importance of exchange of information in science. Finnigan instruments. Marvin Vestal. Usefulness of engineering degree for building or modifying own spectrometers. Three major areas of research: determining where MALDI was most useful; discovering which molecules MALDI was most adapted for; understanding how and why MALDI ions formed. Incorporation of inorganic materials in organic crystals. Publishing difficulties. More about Tanaka.

Retirement and General Thoughts
121

Mentoring and lab management. German mentoring system. Helped develop submission for Excellence Initiative before he retired. Retirement age in Germany. Still on advisory committee for University. Diminution of lab skills due to age leads to helping others. Will be senior professor when position approved. Mass spectrometry department depleted. Skiing accident. Three best friend from career: Kaufmann, Birngruber, Karas. List of colleagues and students and their places in his work. Excitons. Patents in Germany; complicated system. International patents for LAMMA; different arrangement for MALDI. Not many Vision instruments sold; difficulty getting patents back from Finnigan. Patents with Sequenom. Costs of, vs. revenues from, patents. Spectrometrists' disappointment and anger over awarding of Nobel Prize to Tanaka instead of MALDI inventors. Letters to Nobel Committee. Email to Hillenkamp from Wellman. Impact of MALDI and electrospray on society, medicine, and biology significant. Other Nobel mistakes.

Index
161

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.