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Oral history interview with Marvin L. Vestal

  • 2010-Mar-03

Oral history interview with Marvin L. Vestal

  • 2010-Mar-03

Marvin L. Vestal obtained both bachelor's and master's degrees in Engineering Sciences from Purdue University, taking a break after two years to volunteer for the draft; he finished his undergraduate degree and master's degree on the GI Bill, coming out of Purdue with no college debt. During college he worked part time at Johnston Laboratories, meeting there Henry Rosenstock and Merrill Wallenstein, who had studied at the University of Utah under Austin Wahrhaftig and Henry Eyring, and who developed the quasi-equilibrium theory (QET) of mass spectrometry (MS). Vestal worked on the coincidence time-of-flight (TOF) project and also improved the machine with his invention of an electron multiplier. He founded Scientific Research Instrument Corporation (SRIC), with Gordon Fergusson, William Johnston (of Johnston Labs), and Bob Jones. The company licensed the new process chemical ionization (CI) from its inventors, Burnaby Munson and Frank Field. Ever restless, Vestal decided that the academic world held appeal, so he went to the University of Utah for a PhD in chemical physics, studying under Wahrhaftig and Futrell. He built a triple quadrupole MS for photodissociation; with Calvin Blakely he built a crossbeam MS for his dissertation.

PhD in hand, Vestal accepted a position at the University of Houston, where he stayed for eleven years. During those years he invented and patented thermospray and started another company, Vestec, which did so well he had to leave the University to work at Vestec (the company commercialized MALDI/TOF instruments). Vestec's merger with PerSeptive, led by Noubar Afeyan, eventually led to the merger with Applied Biosystems. After retiring for a short while, Vestal founded Virgin Instruments.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 135 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 0680

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • September 08, 1934
  • Pendleton, Indiana, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1958 Purdue University BS Engineering Sciences
1960 Purdue University MS Engineering Sciences
1975 University of Utah PhD Chemical Physics

Professional Experience

United States. Army

  • 1954 to 1956 Signal Corp, Fort Huachuca, Arizona

Johnston Laboratories

  • 1958 to 1967 Scientist

Scientific Research Instruments Corporation

  • 1967 to 1970 Senior Scientist and Founder
  • 1970 to 1976 Consultant

University of Utah

  • 1970 to 1975 Research Instructor, Chemistry
  • 1975 to 1976 Research Associate Professor, Chemistry

University of Houston

  • 1976 to 1981 Associate Professor of Chemistry
  • 1981 to 1987 Professor of Chemistry

Vestec Corporation

  • 1983 to 1993 President

PerSeptive Biosystem

  • 1993 to 1997 Vice President, Mass Spectrometry

Applied Biosystems/PerSeptive Biosystems

  • 1997 to 2001 Scientific Fellow and Vice President, Mass Spectrometry

Applied Biosystems

  • 2001 to 2004 Principal Scientist, TOF Mass Spectrometry Research

Virgin Instruments

  • 2004 to 2010 Founder, CEO, CSO


Year(s) Award
1985 Lester W. Strock Award
1997 Scientific Fellow, PerSeptive Biosystems
2005 Field and Franklin Award for Distinguished Contribution in Mass Spectrometry
2010 Distinguished Contribution in Mass Spectrometry

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PDF — 1.6 MB

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

2 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads