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Photograph of Franz Hillenkamp

Oral history interview with Franz Hillenkamp

  • 2012-Aug-20

Oral history interview with Franz Hillenkamp

  • 2012-Aug-20

Franz Hillenkamp was born in Essen, Germany. Having chosen the science and math track in the Gymnasium Hillenkamp went on to major in electrical engineering at Technische Universitat Munchen (TUM). He interrupted his diploma thesis on vacuum systems to accept a Fulbright Scholarship to Purdue University, where he obtained a master's degree. Returning to TUM he finished his thesis and married. Hillenkamp's first job was with the Federal Department of Science and Technology, where he taught himself lasers and worked with them for fourteen years. During this time he also got his PhD, writing his thesis on energy meters for Q-switch lasers. Hillenkamp met Raimund Kaufmann and the two began a long lasting collaboration; eventually this collaboration led Hillenkamp and Michael Karas to the invention of, first, laser-induced microprobe mass analysis, or LAMMA; and then matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization, or MALDI, which has been profoundly important in biology.

Researching the safety of lasers led Hillenkamp to found a laser-tissue interaction laboratory; this lab became the prototype for the Wellman Center for Photomedicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. Hillenkamp held a position at J. W. Goethe Universiẗt in Frankfurt before moving to the University of Münster, where he became chair and Director of the Department of Medical Physics and Biophysics. At that time Münster was considered the center of mass spectrometry in Germany. Hillenkamp has also held visiting positions at Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, Universitá degli Studi di Napoli, University of Maryland in Munich, and other places. He helped develop a submission for the Excellence Initiative before he retired.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 165 pages
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

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.

Institutional location

Oral history number 0704

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • March 18, 1936
  • Essen, Germany
  • August 22, 2014
  • Münster, Germany


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1961 Purdue University MS Electrical Engineering
1962 Technische Universität München Diploma Electrical Engineering
1966 Technische Universität München PhD Electrical Engineering

Professional Experience

Universität München

  • 1962 to 1963 Research Assistant, Institut für Strahlenbiologie (Institute for Radiation Biology)

Gesellschaft für Strahlen- und Umweltforschung. Institut für Radiohydrometrie

  • 1963 to 1968 Research Scientist
  • 1968 to 1976 Deputy Head, Department of Coherent Optics
  • 1976 to 1986 Research Consultant

University of Maryland, Munich Campus

  • 1963 to 1976 Part-time Lecturer of Physics

Universität Frankfurt am Main

  • 1982 to 1986 Professor, Medical Faculty

Harvard Medical School

  • 1985 to 2006 Visiting Professor

Massachusetts General Hospital

  • 1985 to 2014 Research Physicist

Università di Napoli

  • 1986 Visiting Professor, Seconda Facoltà di Medicina

Texas A & M University

  • 1999 Visiting Professor

Universität Innsbruck

  • 2000 Visiting Professor

Sequenom Inc.

  • 2001 to 2014 Chief Consultant, Mass Spectrometry

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

  • 2003 G. Frederick Memorial Lecture


Year(s) Award
1997 Award for Distinguished Contributions in Mass Spectrometry of the American Society for Mass Spectrometry
2000 Award for Molecular Bioanalytics of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Biochemie und Molekularbiologie
2001 Wolfgang Paul Lecture, German Society for Mass Spectrometry
2001 Member, Academy of Sciences of the State of North Rhein-Westphalia Germany
2003 Award for Outstanding Contributions to Biomolecular Technologies and Applications of the Association of Bioanalytical Research Facilities (ABRF)
2003 Thompson Medal of the International Mass Spectrometry Society
2003 Fresenius Award of the German Chemical Society (GDCh)
2003 Beckurts Preis of the German Helmholtz Association
2006 Torbern Bergman Medal of the Swedish Chemical Society
2011 Caroline and William Mark Memorial Award of the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery
2012 Honorary Member, German Society for Mass Spectrometry

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PDF — 4.4 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

2 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads