Marvin Margoshes

Born: May 23, 1925 | New York City, NY, US
Died: Friday, January 12, 2018 | New York, NY, US

Marvin Margoshes grew up in New York City, New York. He was always interested in science, settling on chemistry when he was at Brooklyn Technical High School.  After high school Margoshes worked in a chemistry lab at New York University Medical School until he enlisted in the US Army.  He was sent to the Pacific theater, where he fought in the Battle of Leyte and the Battle of Okinawa.  After the war, Margoshes enrolled at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, then did his graduate work at Iowa State University, where his advisor, Velmer Fassel, assigned him to run an infrared spectroscopy lab with George Hammond.  Margoshes then moved on to Harvard University, where he was a research fellow, had an unpaid job in flame spectroscopy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and worked with Bert Vallee on a study of cadmium as a cause of hypertension. Margoshes began work in the analytical chemistry spectrometry group of Bourdon Scribner at the National Bureau of Standards (NBS). There he worked with cyanogen and spent a year studying Russian, as most of the work published about cyanogen was in that language. Margoshes began computer work using the time sharing computer; he invented a coenzymometer (DetermiTubes), and had an idea for a glucose analyzer but could not sell the idea to Technicon. After nearly twenty years at NBS, Margoshes went to work at Block Engineering, doing Fourier transform analysis with Tomas Hirschfeld.  After just two years he moved to Technicon. Technicon was sold several times; when Bayer AG acquired it Margoshes quit because Bayer refused to do business in Israel. At the end of the interview, Margoshes moves on to a discussion of the evolution of electronics, the development of small instruments, and the size and power of computers. Throughout the interview Margoshes stresses the importance of broad general knowledge. His advice to young people is not to specialize too much, as everything changes, often rapidly.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0697
No. of pages: 130
Minutes: 338

Interview Sessions

Michael A. Grayson
6 April 2011
Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Abstract of Interview

Marvin Margoshes grew up in New York City, New York, one of three children. His parents had left the Austro-Hungarian Empire, his father from Galicia and his mother from Hungary, and had met as members of a Zionist organization. Margoshes's father, though he did not finish high school and only obtained a GED when he was sixty, helped organize the national dental laboratory business and founded a school for technicians. Margoshes himself was always interested in science, settling on chemistry when he was at Brooklyn Technical High School. After high school Margoshes worked in a chemistry lab at New York University Medical School until he enlisted in the U. S. Army. The Army sent him to become an instrument technician in Kalamazoo, Michigan, but he was soon sent on to the Pacific theater, where he fought in the Battle of Leyte and the Battle of Okinawa. He describes his experiences in battle, in typhoons, and with pygmies on Mindoro. Finally back from war, Margoshes enrolled at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, intending to major in chemistry, though he also liked physics. For a PhD Margoshes entered Iowa State University, where his advisor, Velmer Fassel, assigned him to run an infrared spectroscopy lab with George Hammond. For fun in Ames, Iowa, Margoshes and his classmates bowled, worked crossword puzzles, and ate all they could at buffets. Margoshes then moved on to Harvard University, where he was a research fellow. He also had an unpaid job in flame spectroscopy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and worked with Bert Vallee on a study of cadmium as a cause of hypertension; this work required rapid transfer of kidneys to the lab, first from human cadavers and then from horses. The invention of the AutoAnalyzer, which provided a profile of blood results; previous methods performed only one test at a time. Margoshes began work in the analytical chemistry spectrometry group of Bourdon Scribner at the National Bureau of Standards (NBS). At the NBS he worked with cyanogen and spent a year studying Russian, as most of the work published about cyanogen was in that language. Stanley Rasberry worked with Margoshes on inductively coupled plasma with argon, while Fassel used helium; he also worked with Rasberry on the first laser probe. Margoshes began computer work using the time sharing computer; he invented a coenzymometer (DetermiTubes), which he says had a good run; and he had an idea for a glucose analyzer but could not sell the idea to Technicon. After nearly twenty years at NBS Margoshes went to work at Block Engineering, doing Fourier transform analysis with Tomas Hirschfeld. After just two years he moved to Technicon. Morris Shamos liked Margoshes and recognized his scientific knowledge and ability. He put Margoshes in charge of a program that offered grants for projects with a commercial value. Margoshes felt this was the perfect job for him: he became known as the "company skeptic" because his extensive knowledge allowed him to understand and evaluate proposals. Technicon was sold several times; when Bayer AG acquired it Margoshes quit because Bayer refused to do business in Israel. During the course of his career, Margoshes performed an analysis of sodium for United Fruit Company, who wanted to emphasize the importance of bananas in a low-sodium diet; that article was published in New England Journal of Medicine, a fact of which Margoshes is proud; he also analyzed potassium in bananas and discovered its importance for astronauts. He has written the chapter on emission spectroscopy in Treatise on Analytical Chemistry, as well as a chapter (with Donald Burns) on automation. In addition he has been review editor of Analytical Chemistry, and admits that he is not immune from editors' annoying criticisms of his own writing. At the end of the interview, Margoshes moves on to a discussion of the evolution of electronics, the development of small instruments, and the size and power of computers. He explains demand-pull and science-push and how users, wanting to improve instruments, often change their purpose. He talks about his experiences on the school board in Tarrytown, New York. Throughout the interview Margoshes stresses the importance of broad general knowledge. His mantra is that there is no such thing as useless knowledge, and he gives several examples. His advice to young people is not to specialize too much, as everything changes, often rapidly. He talks about his patents and his experiences getting patents, which he says are like puzzles. He explains a little about his work with the echelle spectrometer and noise in Fourier infrared and emission spectroscopy. He considers his plasma jet work his most significant. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1950 Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute BS Chemistry
1953 Iowa State College PhD Physical Chemistry

Professional Experience

Harvard Medical School

1954 to 1957
Research Fellow and Research Associate, Biophysics Research Laboratory, Peter Bent Brigham Hospital

National Bureau of Standards

1957 to 1969
Spectrochemical Analysis Section, Analytical Chemistry Division

Block Engineering, Inc.

1969 to 1970
Project Manager

Technicon Instrument Corporation

1971 to 1989
Director, Chemical Instrumentation, Corporate Research; Manager, Programs of Grants for Research on Scientific and Industrial Instrumentation

Techtransfer Service, Inc.

1990 to 1993
President

Honors

Year(s) Award
1953

First Annual Phi Lambda Upsilon Award for Graduate Research, Iowa State College

1964

Department of Commerce Merit Award

1969

Department of Commerce Merit Award

1971

Outstanding Member Award, Baltimore-Washington Section, Society for Applied Spectroscopy

1976

Society for Applied Spectroscopy Gold Medal 

1998

Distinguished Service Award, Society for Applied Spectroscopy

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Margoshes' opening statement. Family background. One brother, one sister. Parents Zionists. Father organized dental laboratory business nationally and founded school for technicians. Interested in science from young age, chemistry his focus in high school. Tested into Brooklyn Technical High School.

College Years
6

Worked in chemistry lab at NYU Medical School. Enlisted; sent to Kalamazoo, Michigan, to become instrument technician. Excellent chemistry teacher. Sent to Deadeyes – 96th Infantry Division. Battle of Leyte. Wounded. Battle ofLuzon. Battle of Okinawa. Another wound. Surviving typhoons. Mindoropygmies. Atom bomb. Home.

Back to College
30

Enrolled at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute. Math not good enough for physics so stayed in chemistry. Large entering class full of returning soldiers. Same problem when applying to graduate school. Entered Iowa State University to work in lab of Velmer Fassel, leader in emission spectroscopy. Assigned to run infrared spectroscopy lab with George Hammond. William Coblentz's "magic chart. " Using Henry Gilman's materials for his thesis. Learning classical methods and precision. Majored in physical chemistry instead of analytical; minored in analytical and physics. Doctors' ignorance of basic science behind test results. Free-time fun in Ames, Iowa: bowling, crossword puzzles, all-you-can-eat buffets.

Harvard University Years
36

Research Fellow at Harvard University. Met wife. Unpaid job in flame spectroscopy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). First automatic background correction. Explains analysis of blood/plasma/serum/blood gas/pH. More about early instrumentation and medicine's resistance. AutoAnalyzer invented; gave profile; old methods required separate tests. Studied cadmium as cause of hypertension with Bert Vallee. Using horse kidneys to get enough cadmium. Cadmium research boomed worldwide.

National Bureau of Standards
46

Bourdon Scribner's analytical chemistry spectrometry group. Developed techniques and standardized samples. Influential lab, used by other government agencies. Uranium for atom bomb. Driving cyanogen from New York City to Washington, D. C. Having to learn Russian. Stanley Rasberry and inductively coupled plasma (ICP) with argon. Thermal equilibrium. Debate with Fassel. Chemists vs. physicists in operations research. Echelle spectrometer. Working with Rasberry on first laser probe. Beginning time-sharing computing at Dartmouth. Warren Wacker and Arthur Karman's test for heart attacks. Coenzymometer (DetermiTubes). Necessity of uniformity and precision in standards, measurements; sources of error. Glucose analyzer.

After NBS
66

Block Engineering. Fourier analysis with Tomas Hirschfeld. Block's work mostly for defense, spying. FBI vetting. Competition with PerkinElmer. Teaching at Sarah Lawrence College. Technicon. Morris Shamos from New York University. AutoAnalyzer's success. Near infrared spectroscopy used by farmers; rugged and portable. "No such thing as useless information. " Gary Hietje and Hirschfeld at Indiana University. Patents and patenting experiences. Worked throughout Technicon as "company skeptic" and jack of all trades; got into business side as well. Jack Whitehead. Whitehead's son John. Whitehead Institute. Current data systems in medicine and delivery of goods. Technicon sold several times, finally to Bayer AG. Israel. Siemens.

Retirement Years
95

Evolution of electronics. Small instruments. Garry Rechnitz and Hirschfeld. Size and power of computers. Publications. Analysis of sodium in bananas for low-sodium diets; potassium analyzed also; useful information for astronauts. Review editor of Analytical Chemistry. Chapter on emission spectroscopy in Treatise on Analytical Chemistry; also chapter (with Donald Burns) on automation. Helping Pakistani professor. Demand-pull and science-push. How users often change purpose of and improve instruments. Experiences on school board in Tarrytown, New York. Considers plasma jet work his most significant; acknowledges it has been furthered by Fassel. Explanation of echelle spectrometer; noise in Fourier infrared and emission spectroscopy. Importance of broad general knowledge. Advice to young: don't specialize too much, as everything changes, often rapidly. Clark electrode; "razor blade business," like AutoAnalyzer. Teaching chromatography at Sarah Lawrence College.

List of Publications and Patents
121
Index
126

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.