Mark A. Ratner

Born: August 12, 1942 | Cleveland, OH, US

Mark A. Ratner discusses his upbringing in Cleveland, Ohio, his undergraduate years at Harvard University, his graduate studies at Northwestern University, and his postdoctoral fellowship in Denmark and Munich. Afterwards, Ratner began working at New York University while exploring molecular electronics, but returned to Northwestern as a faculty member in the Chemistry Department. Ratner also reflects on his collaborations with IBM and DARPA, his experiences as organizing chair and a member of the board of directors for the Gordon Research Conferences, and on the future of nanotechnology. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0335
No. of pages: 78
Minutes: 248

Interview Sessions

Arthur Daemmrich and Cyrus C. M. Mody
7 April 2006
Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Abstract of Interview

Mark A. Ratner begins the interview by describing his early connection to science while growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, working at the Harshaw Chemical Company as a high school summer job, and switching between various majors as an undergraduate student at Harvard University. After Harvard, Ratner attended graduate school at Northwestern University and became a postdoctoral fellow in Denmark and Munich. Upon returning to the US, Ratner began teaching at New York University for several years and worked with graduate student Avi Aviram to explore molecular rectifiers (later called molecular electronics). Ratner returned to Northwestern in 1975,this time as a faculty member in the Chemistry Department. Next Ratner reflected on collaboration with various institutions such as IBM and DARPA, and the development of molecular electronics research with Aviram. Moving on to the Gordon Research Conferences, Ratner described his experiences as an organizing chair; a member of the board of directors; and being on steering and selection (S&S) committee. Finally, Ratner concluded the interview reflecting on evolving funding practices, the importance of having a staff at research centers, and offering some thoughts on the future of nanotechnology. 


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1964 Harvard University BA Chemistry
1969 Northwestern University PhD Chemistry

Professional Experience

Aarhus University

1970 to 1971
Postdoctoral Fellow

New York University

1971 to 1975
Associate Professor, Chemistry

Northwestern University

1975 to 1979
Associate Professor, Chemistry
1979 to 1994
Professor of Chemistry
1980 to 1984
Associate Dean, College of Arts and Sciences
1994 to 2007
Morrison Professor of Chemistry
Lawrence B. Dumas Distinguished University Professor

Odense University

Postdoctoral Fellow


Year(s) Award
1972 to 1975

A. P. Sloan Foundation Fellow


Fellow, Advanced Study Institute, Hebrew University


Fellow, American Physical Society


Fellow, American Association for Advancement of Science


Fellow, Advanced Study Institute, Hebrew University


Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences


Member, National Academy of Sciences


Feynman Prize


Langmuir Award


Foreign Member, Royal Danish Academy of Science


Member, International Academy of Quantum Molecular Sciences


Mulliken Medal


Dr. Sci. (H. C. ), Hebrew University of Jerusalem


Hirschfelder Prize in Theoretical Chemistry, University of Wisconsin

Table of Contents

Family History and Early Life Experiences

Influence of Sputnik on childhood education. High school summer job at Harshaw Chemical Company. Family influence and encouragement.


Undergraduate studies at Harvard University. Switching majors between mathematics, English, and chemistry. Summer research with Eugene Rochow. Graduate school at Northwestern University. Reflections on the Northwestern chemistry department. Research with G. Ludwig Hofacker. Writing graduate thesis.

Early Career

Postdoctoral fellowship at Aarhus University with Jan Linderberg. Gradually moving away from formal theoretical chemistry. Teaching at New York University. Setting up a research laboratory. Becoming Ari Aviram's advisor. Interest in molecular rectifier research. Connection with IBM through Aviram. NYU reorganization and decision to return to Northwestern.

Career Development

Research collaborations. Interactions with DARPA. Impressions of John Pople. Development of molecular electronics research with Aviram.

Gordon Research Conferences

Attending, chairing and organizing conferences. Involvement with GRC governance. Broad of Directors and Selection and Scheduling Committee duties.

Thoughts on research and collaboration

Works of other molecular electronics researchers and their impact. Thoughts on having joint students and post-docs with other researchers. Differences in today's funding practices versus the past.

Concluding thoughts

Setting up research centers at Northwestern and importance of having a staff. Spin-off companies development. The future of nanotechnology.


About the Interviewer

Arthur Daemmrich

Arthur Daemmrich is an assistant professor in the Business, Government, and International Economy Unit at Harvard Business School and a senior research fellow at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. His research examines science, medicine, and the state, with a focus on advancing theories of risk and regulation through empirical research on the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and chemical sectors. At HBS he also plays an active role in an interdisciplinary Healthcare Initiative, advancing scholarship and developing applied lessons for the business of creating and delivering health services and health-related technologies. Daemmrich was previously the director of the Center for Contemporary History and Policy at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. He earned a PhD in Science and Technology Studies from Cornell University in 2002 and has held fellowships at the Social Science Research Council/Berlin Program for Advanced German and European Studies, the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and the Chemical Heritage Foundation. He has published widely on pharmaceutical and chemical regulation, biotechnology business and policy, innovation, and history of science.

Cyrus C. M. Mody

Cyrus Mody is an assistant professor of history at Rice University. Prior to that position he was the manager of the Nanotechnology and Innovation Studies programs in the Center for Contemporary History and Policy at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. He has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical and materials engineering from Harvard University and a PhD in science and technology studies from Cornell. He was the 2004–2005 Gordon Cain Fellow at CHF before becoming a program manager. Mody has published widely on the history and sociology of materials science, instrumentation, and nanotechnology.