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Oral history interview with Robert E. Finnigan

  • 2001-Dec-04

Oral history interview with Robert E. Finnigan

  • 2001-Dec-04

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.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 115 pages
  • 8 h 10 m 6 s
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

David C. Brock is a senior research fellow with the Center for Contemporary History and Policy at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. As a historian of science and technology, he specializes in the history of semiconductor science, technology, and industry; the history of instrumentation; and oral history. Brock has studied the philosophy, sociology, and history of science at Brown University, the University of Edinburgh, and Princeton University.In the policy arena Brock recently published Patterning the World: The Rise of Chemically Amplified Photoresists, a white-paper case study for the Center’s Studies in Materials Innovation. With Hyungsub Choi he is preparing an analysis of semiconductor technology roadmapping, having presented preliminary results at the 2009 meeting of the Industry Studies Association.

Institutional location

Oral history number 0227

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • May 27, 1927
  • Buffalo, New York, United States
  • August 14, 2022
  • Palo Alto, California, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1949 United States Naval Academy BS
1954 University of Illinois at Chicago MS Electrical Engineering
1957 University of Illinois at Chicago PhD Electrical Engineering

Professional Experience

United States. Air Force

  • 1949 to 1954 2nd Lieutenant, 1st Lieutenant with assignments to strategic Air Command, University of Illinois (student officer), U. S. Air Force Institute of Technology (Instructor), Ph.D. Special Student
  • 1954 to 1959 Captain

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

  • 1957 to 1959 Head, Nuclear Reactor Control Group
  • 1959 to 1962 Senior Scientist

Stanford Research Institute

  • 1962 to 1963 Senior Research Engineer

Electronic Associates

  • 1963 to 1967 Director, Scientific Instruments Division

Finnigan Corporation

  • 1967 to 1990 Founder, President, Vice Chairman, Senior Vice President
  • 1990 to 2003 Vice Chairman Emeritus, Consultant


Year(s) Award
1975 Distinguished Alumnus Award, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Illinois
1980 Alumni Honor Award for Distinguished Service in Engineering, College of Engineering, University of Illinois
1994 Pioneer in Analytical Instrumentation-Mass Spectrometry, Society for Analytical Chemists of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry
1999 Winston Churchill Medal of Wisdom
1999 Wisdom Hall of Fame
1999 Instrumentation Hall of Fame, Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Analytical Chemistry Society
2002 Robert E. Finnigan Professorship established at Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences, Clairmont, California, by outside donors to Keck

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PDF — 879 KB

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

14 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads