Oral history interview with John R. Ferraro

Oral history interview with John R. Ferraro

  • 2011-May-09

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.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 135 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.

Physical location

Oral history number 0700

Interviewee biographical information

  • January 27, 1918
  • Chicago, Illinois, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1941 Illinois Institute of Technology BS Chemistry
1948 Northwestern University (Evanston, Ill.) MS Chemistry
1954 Illinois Institute of Technology PhD Physical Chemistry

Professional Experience

United States. Army

  • 1941 to 1942 Analytical Chemist, Kankakee Arsenal

Argonne National Laboratory

  • 1948 to 1980 Senior Scientist
  • 1986 to 2005 Consultant

Loyola University Chicago

  • 1980 to 1985 Searle Professor Chemistry


Year(s) Award
1973 Outstanding Achievements in Spectroscopy Award, New York Section of Society of Applied Spectroscopy
1973 Distinguished Scientist Award, Argonne Universities Association
1973 to 1974 Appointee, Hasler Award in Spectroscopy
1974 Honorary Member, Society of Applied Spectroscopy
1975 Meggers Award, Society of Applied Spectroscopy
1975 Achievement in Spectroscopy Award, Chicago Section of Society of Applied Spectroscopy
1986 Distinguished Service Award, Society of Applied Spectroscopy
1990 Honorary Member, Coblentz Society
1991 Emeritus Fellow, Italian Chemical Society
1996 50 Years of Infrared Spectroscopy Symposium Honoring John R. Ferraro, Eastern Analytical Symposium
1996 Editor Appreciation Award, Journal of Applied Spectroscopy
2004 Fellow of the Society of Applied Spectroscopy

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PDF — 949 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

3 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads