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.