John R. Ferraro was born and grew up in Chicago, Illinois. He attended Richard T. Crane Technical High School, then worked at General Motors for three years before entering Illinois Institute of Technology, majoring in chemistry, working with Norman Kharasch. After graduation, Ferraro entered the US Army and was sent to Grand Rapids, Michigan, for training in meteorology. He spent the remaining three and a half years of World War II in the Burma-China-India theater.
Ferraro earned a master's degree from Northwestern University, working under Charles Hurd. Next he accepted a position at Argonne National Laboratory, working in solvent extraction. He became interested in infrared spectroscopy, then far-infrared (FIR). Ferraro wrote the seminal work on far-infrared spectroscopy and bought the first dedicated FIR instruments from Beckman Instruments and PerkinElmer. He taught at Loyola University in Chicago for five years, spent a year at the Lunar Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona, learning Fourier transform (FTIR) spectroscopy, then moved back to Argonne, where he spent a total of fifty-seven years. Ferraro discusses his students; his theory about innovation; his travels and interactions with colleagues around the world; his publications; his interest in history and his genealogy; and his continuing affiliation with three museums. He talks about instrumentation and the nexus between technique and equipment; what he sees as the enormous improvements in instruments; the serendipity of Fourier transform and what it has made possible; and miniaturization.