Robert E. Finnigan begins the interview with a description of his family and childhood years in Snyder, New York. Finnigan developed an interest in military service and science while reading The Dave Darrin Series about a new recruit at the United States Naval Academy [USNA] and while building World War II model airplane replicas as a young boy. After entering the USNA in 1945, Finnigan became fascinated with electronics and realized that he wanted to continue his electrical engineering [EE] education at a graduate level, so he enrolled in an Air Force Institute of Technology program, which allowed qualified officers to enter graduate school after three years of service. While in the AFIT program, Finnigan met and married Bette E. Finnigan. In 1952, Finnigan became a "student officer" in EE at the University of Illinois at Urbana.
After receiving his Ph.D. in 1957, Finnigan joined the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory [LLNL], formerly the Lawrence Livermore Radiation Laboratory. While at LLNL, Finnigan worked on the development and application of nuclear ramjet reactors such as the TORY II-A and TORY II-C. Subsequent to working on ramjet reactors for five years, Finnigan decided to pursue process controls research at SRI [Stanford Research Institute]. At SRI, Finnigan became interested in the prospects for the quadrupole mass spectrometer as an advanced instrument for process control. As awareness of the quadrupole grew, Finnigan and his division were persuaded by EAI [Electronic Associates Incorporated] to leave SRI in order to start a process-systems group and quadrupole development. Finnigan remained at EAI, in the Scientific Instruments Division producing quadrupoles for academic and industrial use, for four years. In 1967, Finnigan resigned after EAI's attempt to sell the Scientific Instruments Division failed and EAI rejected his idea to venture into the GC-MS [gas chromatography mass spectrometry] market. Later that same year, Finnigan formed Finnigan Corporation with assistance from Roger Sant and T. Z. Chu. Via Finnigan Corporation, Finnigan continued to research and develop quadrupoles and GC-MS. Finnigan concludes the interview with a discussion of his hobbies and family, reflections on Thermo Instrument Systems' acquisition of Finnigan Corporation, and thoughts on the Finnigan Corporation of today.