Oral history interview with Richard E. Honig

Oral history interview with Richard E. Honig

  • 1996-Apr-27
Photograph of Richard E. Honig

Richard E. Honig was born in Göttingen, Germany, the eldest of three boys. He attended Robert College, an American college in Istanbul, from which he graduated with a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering. In 1938, Honig moved to the United States to pursue a Ph.D. in Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Through a course in nuclear physics, he became interested in the nature of atoms, molecules and particularly isotopes, and eventually built his own mass spectrometer to study the effects of deuterium and cyclotron radiation on methane. His thesis on the nature of gas flow in that mass spectrometer was written under the direction of Clark Goodman.

In 1946, Honig accepted a position at Socony-Vacuum Labs in Paulsboro, New Jersey, where he was able to continue the pursuit of his interest in the study of small hydrocarbon molecules with mass spectrometry. Honig joined the research staff at the Radio Corporation of America Laboratories in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1950, where he remained for the rest of his long career. His work began in Don North's group, studying materials used in hot cathodes. He designed and built a two-stage mass spectrometer, which led a few years later to the development of a secondary ion mass spectrometer (SIMS). He spent a year during the mid-1950's at the University of Brussels helping to start a mass spectrometry laboratory with Jean Drowart. Honig's career at RCA focused on materials characterization, particularly impurities in semiconductor materials, first with mass spectrometry and then later with a variety of surface analysis techniques when he became head of the newly formed Materials Characterization Research Group there in the mid-1960's. His long-time interest in cluster formation led to his measurement of elemental vapor pressures as a function of temperature and the evaluation of previously reported values for these quantities. Honig stepped down from his managerial position in 1982 and spent the next several years back in the laboratory helping to design and build a new mass spectrometer to study the organic materials on surfaces.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 60 pages
Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Rights holder
  • Science History Institute
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute
Digitization funder
  • Audio synchronization made possible through the generous funding of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

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.

Physical location

Oral history number 0678

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • 1917
  • Göttingen, Germany
  • July 31, 2001
  • Pennsylvania, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1938 Robert College (Istanbul, Turkey) BSEE
1939 Massachusetts Institute of Technology MS Physics
1944 Massachusetts Institute of Technology PhD Physics

Professional Experience

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  • 1939 to 1940 Lecturer, Physics
  • 1940 to 1946 Researcher, Radiation Laboratory

Bluffton College (Bluffton, Ohio)

  • 1940 to 1941 Lecturer, Mathematics & Physics

Socony-Vacuum Research Laboratories

  • 1946 to 1950 Researcher, Mass Spectrometry

RCA Laboratories

  • 1950 to 1966 Researcher
  • 1966 to 1982 Head, Materials Characterization Group
  • 1982 to 1987 Staff Scientist

Université libre de Bruxelles

  • 1955 to 1956 Visiting Researcher


Year(s) Award
Member, Böhmische Physical Society
1964 to 1968 Chairman of Subcommittee VII on Solids Studies of ASTM E-14 Committee on Mass Spectrometry
1968 to 1970 Vice President, American Society for Mass Spectrometry
1970 to 1972 President, American Society for Mass Spectrometry
1972 to 1974 Past President, American Society for Mass Spectrometry
1972 to 1974 Fellow, American Physical Society
1972 to 1974 Adjunct Research Professor, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (while still at RCA Laboratories)
1986 Awarded The Science Medal from the Vrije Universiteit of Brussels

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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

5 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads