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.