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Oral history interview with William S. Knowles

  • 2008-Jan-30

Oral history interview with William S. Knowles

  • 2008-Jan-30

William S. Knowles begins his oral history by discussing his early life during the Great Depression and his education, including time at Harvard University and Columbia University. Knowles spent the majority of his career at Monsanto Company, where he moved from studies of vanillin to research on steroid chemistry and L-Dopa, among other topics. Knowles discusses the many projects he worked on while at Monsanto, his 2001 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and the challenges of being an industrial scientist.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 144 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 0406

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • June 01, 1917
  • Taunton, Massachusetts, United States
  • June 13, 2012
  • Chesterfield, Missouri, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1939 Harvard University AB Chemistry
1942 Columbia University PhD Steroids

Professional Experience

Monsanto Chemical Company

  • 1942 to 1944 Chemical Research and Development
  • 1944 to 1951 Organic Division
  • 1952 to 1966 Group Leader, Scientist, Research Advisor
  • 1966 to 1970 Senior Scientist
  • 1970 Distinguished Science Fellow
  • 1982 to 1986 Agricultural Chemicals Division

Harvard University

  • 1951 to 1952 Academic Leave, Total Synthesis of Steroids, R.B. Woodward


Year(s) Award
1974 IR 100 Award, Asymmetric Hydrogenation Process
1978 St. Louis American Chemical Society Section Award
1981 Monsanto Thomas and Hochwalt Award
1982 American Chemical Society Award for Creative Invention
1996 The Organic Reactions Catalysis Society Paul N. Rylander Award
2001 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

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PDF — 977 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

4 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads