Keith R. Jennings

Born: December 5, 1932 | Sheffield, GB
Photograph of Keith Jennings

Keith R. Jennings begins his oral history by discussing his youth and education in the United Kingdom, including his chemistry studies at University of Oxford, where he worked with Jack Wilfrid Linnett, and his postdoctoral position with Robert Cevetanovic at the National Research Council in Ottawa, Canada. Jennings took a position at the University of Sheffield and moved on to the University of Warwick. Jennings reflects on his lengthy career at the University of Warwick, his research on mass spectrometry and the field of mass spectrometry in general, and his notable collaborators and peers.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0419
No. of pages: 173
Minutes: 333

Interview Sessions

Michael A. Grayson
24-25 April 2008

Abstract of Interview

Keith R. Jennings begins his oral history discussing his youth in Sheffield, England. With parents supportive of his education, Jennings excelled, earning a spot at the prestigious King Edward VII Grammar School. Upon completing his examinations, Jennings applied to the University of Oxford where he was awarded the Hastings Scholarship to Queen’s College. While at Queen’s College, Jennings pursued his B.A. with Jack Wilfrid Linnett. After achieving First Class Honors distinction, Jennings continued his research with Linnett to complete an M.A. and D.Phil.
Following his time at the University of Oxford, Jennings conducted post-doctoral research with Robert J. Cevetanovic at the National Research Council in Ottawa, Canada. While Jennings worked with Cevetanovic he became more interested in the burgeoning research field of mass spectrometry. Returning to England after two years in Canada, Jennings began a post at the University of Sheffield, first as a Lecturer and then as a Reader. While at Sheffield, Jennings pursued research in the mass spectrometry of gas kinetics, fluorine compounds, and metastable transitions. He began building his own equipment and became involved in the emerging British mass spectrometry community.
Jennings discusses Ion Cyclotron Resonance research, time dependant ion fragmentation, and collision induced spectroscopy. After moving to the University of Warwick in 1972, Jennings continued his research on fluorinated compounds, metastables, and the fundamental research of gas phase ion chemistry. Additionally, he became interested in the biological aspects of science and began a mass spectrometry research program around peptides. While at Warwick, Jennings spent much time involved in department administration as the Chemistry department’s chair. Ultimately he moved into the Biological Sciences department to further pursue his collaboration with Howard Dalton.
Jennings spends much time talking about the development of the mass spectrometry community in Great Britain, especially the contributions of John Beynon and the historical shift when chemists became interested in mass spectrometry after World War II. Jennings also discusses mass spectrometry curricula and his own teaching experiences both in England and abroad. Throughout the interview, Jennings talks about his research, teaching, and personal collaborations with many prominent members of the mass spectrometry community including Michael T. Bowers, Jean Futrell, Michael Barber, and Martin Elliott.


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1956 The Queen's College, Oxford BA Chemistry
1958 The Queen's College, Oxford MA Chemistry
1958 The Queen's College, Oxford DPhil Chemistry

Professional Experience

National Research Council Canada

1958 to 1960
Postdoctorate, under R.J. Cvetanovic

University of Sheffield

1960 to 1969
1969 to 1972

University of Warwick

1972 to 1997
Professor of Physical Chemistry
1974 to 1980
Chairman of Department
1983 to 1985
Chairman, Board of Science
1983 to 1986
Chairman of Department
1989 to 1995
Chairman of Department
1997 to 2009
Emeritus Research Professor in Department of Biological Sciences


Year(s) Award

Thomson Medal presented by the International Mass Spectrometry Congress


Award for Distinguished Contribution in Mass Spectrometry presented by the American Society for Mass Spectrometry


Visiting Gulbenkian Professor, New University of Lisbon


Honorary DSc, University of Lisbon, Portugal


Field and Franklin Award for Outstanding Work in Mass Spectrometry presented by the American Chemical Society


Aston Medal for Outstanding Contributions presented by the British Mass Spectrometry Society


Elected Life Member of the British Mass Spectrometry Society

Table of Contents

Childhood and Early Education

Growing up in Sheffield, United Kingdom. Being chosen for King Edward VII Grammar School. Encouragement towards University of Oxford. Hastings Scholarship to Queen's College. Influences of the Chemistry Master, Mr. Hargreaves. National Service with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. Avoiding Korea because of possible scarlet fever infection.

Higher Education and Post-Doctorate

Queen's College, University of Oxford. Tutor Jack Wilfrid Linnett. Examination after three years. Part 2 research. Nitrogen atom reactions. First Class Honors. Continuing research with Linnett for D.Phil. NationalResearch Council in Ottawa, Canada. Mass Spectrometry research with Robert J. Cvetanovic.

The University of Sheffield

University of Sheffield. Assistant Professor. Mass spectrometry and gas kinetics research. Building his own equipment. Fluorine research. The advent of metastable transitions and John Beynon. Joining various mass spectrometry groups. Burgeoning mass spectrometry community.

Ion Cyclotron Resonance Research

Time-of-flight mass spectrometry. Time-dependent ion fragmentation. Varian's Syrotron. Collaboration with Michael T. Bowers. Sharing MS9 machine within the department. Collision induced spectroscopy research.

The University of Warwick and the Biological Sciences

University of Warwick. Building a second Ion Cyclotron Resonance machine. Continuing research on fluorinated compounds and metastables. Fundamental research in gas phase ion chemistry. Beginning research on peptides. Crossed beam mass spectrometry. Joining Howard Dalton's research group. Taking his equipment with him. Christmas lecture on proteomics. Development of mass spectrometers.

Collaborations, Administration, and Mass Spectrometry in Britain

Mass spectrometry community in industry. Collaborations in biology. Accommodating faculty on sabbatical leave in his lab. Administrative work within the department. Fifteen of twenty-five years in the chemistry department as chair. Chairman of the Board of Science. John Beynon. Early interest from the oil companies. British Mass Spectrometry Society founded 1964. Introduction of interpretation into undergraduate curricula. Post-graduate curricula. Lecturing abroad. NATO courses.

Mass Spectrometry Research

Combining radical gas kinetics and spectroscopy. Scientific method and publishing. Fast-atom bombardement. Surface induced collisions. Time of Flight. Researching Mad Cow Disease and protein folding through ion mobility.

Personal Interactions

John Beynon and metastables. Publishing. Founding the mass spectroscopy journals. Separating mass spec from more mainstream chemistry and science. Discipline formation. Alfred Gordon Gaydon. Klaus Biemann. Michael Barber and Martin Elliot. Nico Nibbering. Jean Futrell. R. Graham Cooks. Allan Maccoll. Dudley Williams.

Teaching and Colleagues

Thermodynamics. Popular course for pre-university students. Increased teaching because of small department size. Urs P. Schlunegger. Jean-Claude Tabet. James H. Scrivens. Alzira Almoster-Ferreira. University of Lisbon. University of Malawi.


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.