Paul Kebarle was born in Bulgaria, where his father was a business man and his mother a housewife. Kebarle escaped to Czechoslovakia, ostensibly for treatment for scoliosis, thence to Switzerland, where he studied nonstop to pass the entrance exam for ETH. At ETH he majored in chemical engineering. Kebarle then became a lab instructor at University of British Columbia, where he obtained his PhD in chemistry under Allen Bryce, studying mass spectrometry (MS). He taught himself MS by fixing an instrument made by the National Research Council (NRC); he had to learn glassblowing to plug leaks. He began with pyrolysis MS and built the more specific and comprehensive gas chromatography-mass spectroscope (GC-MS).
Two years of postdoctoral work with Fred Lossing at the NRC produced many publications, some amplifying his thesis on butene-1. Kebarle was next hired as professor at the University of Alberta, where he continued his high rate of important publications, until – he says – his work “disappears” because it has been internalized in the discipline of chemistry. He worked on electrospray MS, publishing with Udo Verkerk what he considers his most important paper. Mandatory retirement age pushed him into a smaller office, but a substantial grant has kept him working and publishing for many years. He and his wife maintain an active outdoor life, biking, walking, and skiing.
Kebarle talks about his family, former colleagues, and the impact of mass spectroscopy on biology. He “fell into” science and urges young people to try it and to work hard at it. He did not experience competition in his field. Kebarle believes that MS will continue to be useful, but that it will not provide the earth-shattering discoveries of the past.
Karl Kopecky added his notes on Kebarle. He explains that Kebarle worked in high-pressure MS, electrospray MS, and ionization MS. He claims that Kebarle’s work is so important that it forms the core of the subject in all standard chemistry textbooks. Kebarle’s work has implications for thermodynamics, computational chemistry, protein folding, and drug interactions. A humble man, Kebarle made nothing of his more than thirty articles that have been cited more than one hundred times.