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Oral history interview with John H. Beynon

  • 2008-Apr-22

Oral history interview with John H. Beynon

  • 2008-Apr-22

John H. Beynon was born in Ystalyfera, Wales, the older of two sons whose parents ended their education at secondary school. Beynon grew up in a coal mining town and attended a local university, the University of Wales at Swansea (Swansea University), during the early years of the Second World War. Graduating with a degree in physics, Beynon decided that the pursuit of a PhD was a waste of time and money and he committed himself fully to wartime work, including the development of weapons system used to track targets while a weapon was in motion. He spent much of his career in industry, principally working at the Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), a British chemical company. Upon his arrival at ICI, Beynon's supervisor, A.J. Hailwood, immediately gave Beynon the task of building a mass spectrometer, a device with which he had no conceptual underpinnings. Creating this technology, however, proved to be pivotal in Beynon's career. Even without a PhD Beynon made himself and his work central to the development of mass spectrometry as a field of study and as a tool of chemical analysis and knowledge.

Uncertain about remaining in industry his entire life, Beynon spent time at Purdue University, Swansea University, and the University of Essex. Being outside of industry allowed Beynon the opportunity to publish his research for the wider scientific community, ultimately contributing over 350 articles and other publications to the annals of science. He founded the Mass Spectrometry Unit at Swansea University, and was also a founding member of both the British Mass Spectrometry Society and the American Society of Mass Spectrometry. All through his long career Beynon trained a number of students (one of whom is Gareth Brenton; Brenton's reflections on his mentor are recorded in the appendix to this transcript) and did much to advance the field of mass spectroscopy. The interview concludes with Beynon's reflections on the politics surrounding the formation of an international mass spectroscopy committee. Throughout the interview Beynon details many of the scientific discoveries that came of out mass spec research, as well as a number of the refinements and improvements to mass spec technology.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 108 pages
Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Rights holder
  • Science History Institute
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute

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.

Institutional location

Oral history number 0420

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • December 29, 1923
  • Ystalyfera, United Kingdom


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1943 Swansea University BS Physics

Professional Experience

Fighting Vehicles Research Establishment

  • 1943 to 1947 Tank Armament Research

Imperial Chemical Industries, ltd.

  • 1947 to 1969 Manager of Physics and Physical, Polymer and Analytical Chemistry
  • 1970 to 1974 Senior Research Associate

Swansea University

  • 1964 to 1969 Honorary Fellow
  • 1974 to 1986 Royal Society Research Professor and Director of the Mass Spectrometry Research Center
  • 1976 to 2009 Research Professor, Physics and Chemistry

University of Minnesota

  • 1965 Boomer Memorial Fellow

Purdue University

  • 1969 to 1975 Professor, Chemistry; Director of Mass Spectrometry Center

University of Essex

  • 1972 to 1975 Visiting Professor
  • 1982 to 1985 Visiting Professor

Inštitut "Jožef Stefan"

  • 1976 to 2009 Research Associate


Year(s) Award
1960 Founder Chairman British Mass Spectrometry Society
1967 Founder Member American Society for Mass Spectrometry
1973 Sigma Xi Research Award, Purdue University
1979 Marice F. Hasler Award
1980 Jozef Stefan Medal
1981 Medal of the Serbian Chemical Society
1984 Techmart Trophy of the British Technology Group
1984 Jan Marc Marci Medal, Czechoslovak Spectroscopic Society
1985 Gold Medal, International Mass Spectrometry Society
1985 to 1986 President, Association for Science Education, Wales
1986 to 1990 Chairman, Schools Curriculum Development Committee, Wales
1987 Frank H. Field and Joe L. Franklin Award for Outstanding Work in Mass Spectrometry, American Chemical Society
1988 Gold Medal, British Mass Spectrometry Society
1990 Gold Medal, Italian Mass Spectrometry Society
1993 Founder President, European Mass Spectrometry Society

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PDF — 1016 KB

The published version of the transcript may diverge from the interview audio due to edits to the transcript made by staff of the Center for Oral History, often at the request of the interviewee, during the transcript review process.

Complete Interview Audio File Web-quality download

5 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads