Oral history interview with Klaus Biemann

Oral history interview with Klaus Biemann

  • 2006-Aug-29
Photograph of Klaus Biemann

Klaus Biemann's oral history begins with a discussion of his youth near Vienna, Austria. As pharmacy was the family profession, Biemann chose to study it at the University of Innsbruck. He soon developed an interest in organic chemistry, however, and shifted his focus, becoming the only graduate student in this field at that time at the University of Innsbruck. Upon finishing his degree, Biemann then received an appointment at the University of Innsbruck, in the context of which he discusses his experiences as well as the post-World War II university environment.

After a summer at MIT working with George Buchi, Biemann decided that the American academic system offered more opportunities than the European one and he subsequently accepted a post-doctorate position at MIT. After two years he was appointed to a faculty position in the analytical division by Arthur C. Cope, the Head of the chemistry department. Early in his tenure at MIT, Biemann's research interest shifted from natural product synthesis to the mass spectrometry of peptides and alkaloid structure. He explains how his early work expanded the perceived applications of early mass spectrometry. While talking about his research at MIT, Biemann reflects on the need to develop new experimental approaches to mass spectrometry, using IBM punch cards, writing computer code, etc. It was even difficult to get the structures of new alkaloids published, because of the novelty of the methodology used; he also discusses his funding from NIH, the first NIH Mass Spectrometry Facility grant, and support from NASA during the Apollo and Viking missions.

After almost twenty years of transforming the chemistry department, Cope left MIT and Biemann became the only analytic chemistry professor in the department. In 1958, Biemann began attending the annual meetings of the American Society of Mass Spectrometry, to which he and his research group contributed much over the ensuing forty years. Throughout the oral history Biemann discusses many topics relevant to the evolution of mass spectrometry in organic chemistry and biochemistry, including computerization, the environment, and space science.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 111 pages
Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Rights holder
  • Science History Institute
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute
Digitization funder
  • Audio synchronization made possible through the generous funding of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

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.

Physical location

Oral history number 0279

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • November 02, 1926
  • Innsbruck, Austria
  • June 02, 2016
  • Brunswick, Maine, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1951 Universität Innsbruck PhD Organic Chemistry

Professional Experience

Universität Innsbruck

  • 1951 to 1955 Instructor

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  • 1955 to 1957 Research Associate
  • 1957 to 1959 Instructor
  • 1959 to 1962 Assistant Professor of Chemistry
  • 1962 to 1963 Associate Professor of Chemistry
  • 1963 to 1996 Professor of Chemistry
  • 1996 to 2007 Professor of Chemistry Emeritus


Year(s) Award
1954 Fulbright Fellowship
1962 Honorary Member, Belgian Chemical Society
1962 Stas Medal, Belgian Chemical Society
1966 Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
1969 to 1977 Team Leader, Viking Molecular Analysis Team
1970 Tricentennial Medal, University of Innsbruck
1973 Powers Award, American Academy of Pharmaceutical Sciences
1974 Outstanding Spectroscopist Award, Society for Applied Spectroscopy, New York Section
1977 Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal, National Aeronautics and Space Administration
1977 Fritz Pregl Medal, Austrian Microchemical Society
1978 Newcomb Cleveland Prize (co-recipient), American Association for the Advancement of Science
1980 Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science
1981 Honorary Member, Japanese Society for Medical Mass Spectrometry
1983 to 1984 Guggenheim Fellowship
1986 Frank H. Field and Joe L. Franklin Award for Outstanding Achievement in Mass Spectrometry, American Chemical Society
1989 Maurice F. Hasler Award, Spectroscopy Society of Pittsburgh
1991 Thomson Medal
1992 Pehr Edman Award for Outstanding Achievements in Mass Spectrometry
1993 Elected Member, National Academy of Sciences
1994 Oesper Award, University of Cincinnati
1995 Beckman Award, Association of Biomedical Resource Facilities
2001 Award in Analytical Chemistry, American Chemical Society
2007 The Benjamin Franklin Medal in Chemistry

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PDF — 2.7 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

3 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads