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John D. Baldeschwieler

John D. Baldeschwieler

CHF Collections, Photograph by Douglas A. Lockard

  • Born: November 14, 1933, Elizabeth, New Jersey

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0280
Interview Date: June 13, 2003
Location: The Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Interviewers: David C. Brock and Arthur Daemmrich
No. of pages: 100
Minutes: 420

  Abstract of Interview

John D. Baldeschwieler begins the interview with a discussion of his family and childhood interests.  He was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, on 14 November 1933.  He attended a public school in Cranford, New Jersey, before moving on to college at Cornell University, where he majored in chemical engineering.  Baldeschwieler found the chemical engineering program challenging, but despite the 80 percent dropout rate for the program, he graduated at the top of his class.  Afterwards, he attended graduate school at the University of California at Berkeley, receiving his PhD in physical chemistry in 1959.  Baldeschwieler had been in the ROTC program at Cornell University, but his service in the Army was deferred after he graduated because of an abundance of officers in the Army at that time; however, he was in the Army Reserves while he attended Berkeley.  It was while at Berkeley that Baldeschwieler was introduced to infrared spectroscopy.  Having served in the military, Baldeschwieler was hired as a chemistry lecturer and instructor at Harvard University.  He became an assistant professor in 1962, and remained at the University until 1965, when he moved to Stanford University.  Though he had been working in the field of nuclear-magnetic resonance at Cornell, Baldeschwieler decided to change his focus to ion-cyclotron resonance when he moved to Stanford.  He became a full professor at Stanford in 1967, and remained with the University until 1971.  From 1971 to 1984, Baldeschwieler worked in various important government positions, including the deputy director position for the Office of Science and Technology, and the coordinator position for the Chemical Catalysis Program in the U.S.-U.S.S.R. Commission on Science and Technology.  Baldeschwieler began his relationship with Caltech during that time period as well.  In 1973, he became chairman of Caltech’s Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Division, and a full professor at the Institute.  In 1981, Baldeschwieler undertook his first commercial endeavor with the creation of Vestar, Inc.  Thus began his work on a string of entrepreneurial ventures, which has included Combion, Inc., Epic Therapeutics, Inc., GeneSoft, Inc., and many others.  In 1999 and 2000, Baldeschwieler was responsible in part for the creation of the Athenaeum Fund and Pasadena Entretec; two organizations established to fund and support young entrepreneurs from Caltech.  Baldeschwieler concludes the interview with his thoughts on entrepreneurship and his experiences in the business world.     


1956 B.S., Chemical Engineering, Cornell University
1959 Ph.D., Physical Chemistry, University of California, Berkeley

  Professional Experience

United States Army

1959 - 1960 First Lieutenant

Harvard University

1960 Chemistry Lecturer

Harvard University

1960 - 1962 Chemistry Instructor

Harvard University

1962 - 1965 Assistant Professor

Stanford University

1965 - 1967 Associate Professor

Stanford University

1967 - 1971 Professor

Office of Science and Technology

1971 - 1973 Deputy Director

U.S.-U.S.S.R. Commission on Science and Technology

1972 - 1976 Coordinator, Program in Chemical Catalysis

California Institute of Technology

1973 - 1978 Chairman, Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering

California Institute of Technology

1973 - 1999 Professor

California Institute of Technology

1977 - 1979 Principal Investigator, California Institute of Technology Institutional Energy Program

California Institute of Technology

1996 - 1999 J. Stanley Johnson Professor

California Institute of Technology

1999 - Present Professor Emeritus

Committee on Scholarly Communication with the People's Republic of China

1978 - 1984 Chairman, Science and Technology Panel

Vestar Inc.

1981 - 1993 Chairman, Board of Directors

Cryopharm Inc.

1988 - 1995 Director

Combion Inc.

1993 - 1995 Director

NeXstar Pharmaceuticals Inc.

1993 - 1999


Epic Therapeutics Inc.

1998 - 1999 Director

Drug Royalty Inc.

1998 - 2002 Director

GeneSoft Inc.

1998 - 2002 Director

The Athenaeum Fund

1999 - Present Managing Member

Pasadena Entretec

2000 - Present Director


1962 - 1965 Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship
1967 Award in Pure Chemistry, American Chemical Society
1968 Fresenius Award of Phi Lambda Upsilon
1970 National Academy of Sciences
1972 American Academy of Arts and Sciences
1979 American Philosophical Society
1989 Richard C. Tolman Medal, American Chemical Society
1990 William H. Nichols Medal, American Chemical Society
2000 National Medal of Science
2001 Award for Creative Invention, American Chemical Society
2003 Othmer Gold Medal, Chemical Heritage Foundation

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Childhood and Education 1

Father's and mother's origins. Childhood interest in science and mechanics. Attending Cornell University. Father's role in World War II. Interest in War research. Nuclear research at Los Alamos National Research Laboratory. Attending the University of California at Berkeley. Sputnik's influence on academic research. Infrared spectrometry at Berkeley. Ph.D. thesis work.

The Army and Harvard University 12

Working in the Ballistic Research lab at Aberdeen Proving Grounds. Joining the Harvard University faculty. Elias J. Corey. Receiving NIH funding for his double-resonance experiment. Robert B. Woodward. Ways to obtain NSF and NIH funding. William G. McMillan. Attending the seminars for young researchers.

Experiences at Stanford University 19

Moving to Stanford. Fourier transform NMR and pulse-NMR experiments. Deciding that NMR had reached its limits. Performing cyclotron experiments at Stanford. Getting a contract from NASA. Teaching at Harvard. Reasons for his interest in ICR. ICR within the context of mass spectrometry. The Omegatron. Collaborative work with Varian Associates, Inc. Jay Henis. Industrial consulting for Monsanto. Working with Merck. Working with Carl Djerassi.

Military Science during the Vietnam War 29

Assessing American tactics in Vietnam. The people sniffer. Tunnel detection with ground-penetrating radar. Working on PSAC. Working with the U.S. Navy Riverine Forces. The Hamlet Pacification Index. Reflections on the Vietnam War's results.

Working in the U.S. Government 33

Lee A. DuBridge. The usefulness of PSAC. Working under various U.S. presidents. The creation of the NEPA and the EPA. The politics of supersonic transport. Working on national security committees. Experimenting with radioisotopes at Stanford. Science in the Nixon administration. The "Berlin Wall." Working for NIH. The War on Cancer and the expansion of the National Cancer Institute. Work with China and the USSR.

Caltech Research and Commercial Ventures 45

T. Y. Shen. Work with liposomes. Building an angular-correlation instrument. Implanting tumors in mice for liposome tests. The creation of Vestar, Inc. H. S. Tsien's funding of Vestar. E. M. Warburg Pincus & Company. The downside of working with venture capitalists. Cancer imaging. Jill Alder's anti-fungal work. NeXstar, Inc. QuanScan, Inc. Affymetrix, Inc. Vestink and DNA chips. Combion, Inc. Pasadena Entretec and UCSD CONNECT for new entrepreneurs. Working as an advisor on various government committees. The Science and Technology Board.

Conclusion 60

The differing structures of advisory boards. The U.S. government's apathy towards foreign-oil dependence. Why advisory committees succeed or fail. Gulf War Syndrome. How QuanScan was formed. The Cryopharm Corporation and freeze-drying blood. The story of Combion. The Drug Royalty Company. GeneSoft, Inc. Working with the venture capital community. Language Weaver, Inc. The significance of the Department of Homeland Security. The anti-terrorism panel. Winning the ACS Award.

Notes 77

Index 78

  About the Interviewer

David C. Brock

David C. Brock is a senior research fellow with the Center for Contemporary History and Policy at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. As a historian of science and technology, he specializes in the history of semiconductor science, technology, and industry; the history of instrumentation; and oral history. Brock has studied the philosophy, sociology, and history of science at Brown University, the University of Edinburgh, and Princeton University.

In the policy arena Brock recently published Patterning the World: The Rise of Chemically Amplified Photoresists, a white-paper case study for the Center’s Studies in Materials Innovation. With Hyungsub Choi he is preparing an analysis of semiconductor technology roadmapping, having presented preliminary results at the 2009 meeting of the Industry Studies Association.

Arthur Daemmrich

Arthur Daemmrich is an assistant professor in the Business, Government, and International Economy Unit at Harvard Business School and a senior research fellow at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. His research examines science, medicine, and the state, with a focus on advancing theories of risk and regulation through empirical research on the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and chemical sectors. At HBS he also plays an active role in an interdisciplinary Healthcare Initiative, advancing scholarship and developing applied lessons for the business of creating and delivering health services and health-related technologies. Daemmrich was previously the director of the Center for Contemporary History and Policy at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. He earned a Ph.D. in Science and Technology Studies from Cornell University in 2002 and has held fellowships at the Social Science Research Council/Berlin Program for Advanced German and European Studies, the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and the Chemical Heritage Foundation. He has published widely on pharmaceutical and chemical regulation, biotechnology business and policy, innovation, and history of science.

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