John L. Holmes
The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.
Abstract of Interview
John L. Holmes was born in North London, United Kingdom, the son of a civil servant and a stay-at-home mother. From an early age, Holmes was encouraged to read, write and experiment. World War II disrupted his education, when the pupils of the Westcroft School were evacuated from London to the West Country, but by Christmas 1939 Holmes had returned to London to be with his parents. He remained in London for the duration of the war, and vividly recalls the London Blitz.
A mere ‘pass’ in chemistry on his Higher School examination meant that Holmes was bound for employment, rather than university. He accepted a position as a trainee analytical chemist at Glaxo Laboratories, where he learned to assay penicillin samples and to devise new analytical methods for novel synthetic products. While working at Glaxo, he pursued his education one day and three evenings per week at Acton Technical College, eventually passing the London External BSc examination in chemistry. His score earned him admission to graduate studies at University College London. There he studied thermal decomposition of alkyl iodides under the mentorship of Allan Maccoll.
After earning his PhD, Holmes fulfilled his National Service requirement at the National Coal Board then took up a postdoc in Ottawa at the National Research Council (NRC) of Canada, doing photochemistry of trifluoromethyl radicals with aromatic substrates. It was at NRC that he met Fred Lossing and got his introduction to mass spectrometry. After a frustrating two-year interlude at the University of Edinburgh, Holmes returned to Ottawa, accepting a position as assistant professor in the Chemistry Department at the University of Ottawa, where (with the exception of sabbaticals and visiting professorships abroad) he spent the remainder of his career. He began his work at Ottawa on the kinetics of hydrogen atom reactions, but soon found himself volunteering to take on a leadership role in the department’s nascent center for mass spectrometry. Throughout the interview, Holmes recounts his evolving research interests, his collaborations with Fred Lossing, Hans Terlouw and others, his teaching and mentoring work, as well as the changing funding climate in Canada, the growth of the University of Ottawa, his experiences at international scientific meetings, and his work as editor of Organic Mass Spectrometry. Holmes concludes the interview with a discussion of his passion for sailing.
|1954||University of London||BSc||Chemistry|
|1957||University of London||PhD||Chemistry|
National Research Council Canada
University of Edinburgh
University of Ottawa
University of Ghana
University College London
University of Utrecht
University of Adelaide
Australian National University
University of Bern
Fellow, Chemical Institute of Canada
Barringer Research Award, Spectroscopy Society of Canada
Fellow, Royal Society of Canada
Award for Excellence in Research, University of Ottawa
Chemical Institute of Canada Medal
Herzberg Award, Spectroscopy Society of Canada
Life Member, British Mass Spectrometry Society
F.P. Lossing Award, Canadian Society for Mass Spectrometry
Fellow and Life Member, Royal Society of Chemistry
Table of Contents
Parents and grandparents. Early education. Preparatory and secondary school. London during the Blitz. Science education at secondary school,
Examination system in the United Kingdom; employment rather than University. Trainee analytical chemist at Glaxo. Studying for BSc at Acton Technical College. Earning a second on London University’s External BSc Examination. Graduate school at University College, London. Details of Glaxo work. Chemistry department at University College under Christopher K. Ingold. Holmes’s work under Allan Maccoll.
National Service requirement; work for the National Coal Board. Postdoc at the National Research Council (NRC) of Canada. E.W.R. Steacie and Ken Kutschke. Fred Lossing; introduction to mass spectrometry. Return to academic science and the United Kingdom; University of Edinburgh. Sir Edmund Hirst. Tom Cottrell.
Keith Laidler; University of Ottawa. Interest in sports. 1950s bicycle travels in Europe. Chemistry Department relations with NRC. Working at a Catholic university; University of Ottawa’s transition to a provincial university. Experiments (and other experiences) at University of Edinburgh. First marriage. Teaching at University of Ottawa. Political and religious milieu in Canada. Work on kinetics of hydrogen atom reactions.
The first mass spectrometer; volunteering to be in charge. Fred McLafferty. Popularity of mass spec; hiring assistant to run samples. Servicing the instrument. Work on mass spectra of carboxylic acids; norbonyl cation. Collaborations with Hans Terlouw. Second mass spectrometer. Establishing a center; third and fourth instruments. Installation and maintenance challenges. Field ionization work on Rydberg species. Funding.
Collaborations with Fred Lossing and Hans Terlouw. Terlouw’s identification of ion-dipole species. Scientific meetings. Mentoring graduate students and postdocs. Growth of University of Ottawa. Grading. International students. Bilingualism. Consulting and expert witness work. Editing Organic Mass Spectrometry. Patents. NASA project. Trent University meetings. Publications and co-authors. Competitors. Favorite projects and experiences. NATO scientific meetings.
Government involvement in scientific research. Climate change. Funding.
Childhood interest in joining the Navy. Early sailing experiences as a young man. Sea and small boat ocean sailing around England, Europe, North America. Trans-Atlantic voyage. Judging international yacht racing. Sailing with family. Comic verse on the topic of scientific publishing.
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.