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John H. Beynon

  • Born: December 29, 1923, Ystalyfera, Wales, United Kingdom

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0420
Interview Date: April 22, 2008
Location: Swansea, Wales, United Kingdom
Interviewer: Michael A. Grayson
No. of pages: 116
Minutes: 239
Sponsor: American Society for Mass Spectrometry
American Society for Mass Spectrometry

  Abstract of Interview

John H. Beynon was born in Ystalyfera, Wales, the older of two sons whose parents ended their education at secondary school. Beynon grew up in a coal mining town and attended a local university, the University of Wales at Swansea (Swansea University), during the early years of the Second World War. Graduating with a degree in physics, Beynon decided that the pursuit of a PhD was a waste of time and money and he committed himself fully to wartime work, including the development of weapons system used to track targets while a weapon was in motion. He spent much of his career in industry, principally working at the Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), a British chemical company. Upon his arrival at ICI, Beynon’s supervisor, A.J. Hailwood, immediately gave Beynon the task of building a mass spectrometer, a device with which he had no conceptual underpinnings. Creating this technology, however, proved to be pivotal in Beynon’s career. Even without a PhD Beynon made himself and his work central to the development of mass spectrometry as a field of study and as a tool of chemical analysis and knowledge.

Uncertain about remaining in industry his entire life, Beynon spent time at Purdue University, Swansea University, and the University of Essex. Being outside of industry allowed Beynon the opportunity to publish his research for the wider scientific community, ultimately contributing over 350 articles and other publications to the annals of science. He founded the Mass Spectrometry Unit at Swansea University, and was also a founding member of both the British Mass Spectrometry Society and the American Society of Mass Spectrometry. All through his long career Beynon trained a number of students (one of whom is Gareth Brenton; Brenton’s reflections on his mentor are recorded in the appendix to this transcript) and did much to advance the field of mass spectroscopy.

The interview concludes with Beynon’s reflections on the politics surrounding the formation of an international mass spectroscopy committee. Throughout the interview Beynon details many of the scientific discoveries that came of out mass spec research, as well as a number of the refinements and improvements to mass spec technology.


1943 B.S., Physics, Swansea University

  Professional Experience

Fighting Vehicles Research Establishment

1943 - 1947 Tank Armament Research

Imperial Chemical Industries, Ltd.

1947 - 1969 Manager of Physics and Physical, Polymer and Analytical Chemistry

Imperial Chemical Industries, Ltd.

1970 - 1974 Senior Research Associate

University of Minnesota

1965 - 1965 Boomer Memorial Fellow

Swansea University

1964 - 1969 Honorary Fellow

Swansea University

1974 - 1986 Royal Society Research Professor and Director of the Mass Spectrometry Research Unit

Swansea University

1976 - present Research Professor, Physics and Chemistry

Purdue University

1969 - 1975

Chemistry, Professor; and Director of Mass Spectrometry Center

University of Essex

1972 - 1975 Visiting Professor

University of Essex

1982 - 1985 Visiting Professor

Institut Jozef Stefan

1976 - Present Research Associate


1960 Founder Chairman British Mass Spectrometry Society
1967 Founder Member American Society for Mass Spectrometry
1973 Sigma Xi Research Award, Purdue University
1979 Marice F. Hasler Award
1980 Jozef Stefan Medal
1981 Medal of the Serbian Chemical Society
1984 Techmart Trophy of the British Technology Group
1984 Jan Marc Marci Medal, Czechoslovak Spectroscopic Society
1985 Gold Medal, International Mass Spectrometry Society
1985 - 1986 President, Association for Science Education, Wales
1986 - 1990 Chairman, Schools Curriculum Development Committee, Wales
1987 Frank H. Field and Joe L. Franklin Award for Outstanding Work in Mass Spectrometry, American Chemical Society
1988 Gold Medal, British Mass Spectrometry Society
1990 Gold Medal, Italian Mass Spectrometry Society
1993 Founder President, European Mass Spectrometry Society

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Lifetime Achievement Publications 1

Overview in the British Society of Mass Spec. Journal.

Childhood, College, and the War 5

Speaking Welsh. The War Work. Schooling. Military Service. Decision not to attend graduate school. Civil Service. How a physicist wound up among chemists. Life during the war.

Imperial Chemical Industries and Mass Spectrometry 19

Learning what mass spec was. Details of the first build. Budgeting. Problems with the first mass spec. How it was used. Publishing. Difficulties gaining acceptance. Possible improvements. Metropolitan Vickers. International Education. Crossroads of physics and chemistry. Mess spec in manufacturing.

Academia, Publishing, and Influence 40

Alternating between ICI and Purdue. Reluctance to break ties with United Kingdom. Royal Society job. Returning to Swansea. Nine books in total. Published prolifically short time in academia. Applications of his research in theory. Accurate mass theories. Publication sales figure.

A Leader in the Field 67

Industrial consultation for VG. How he was compensated. Attending conferences. Excited developments he recalls. Playing the washboard at a conference. Published images. ASTM meetings. A paper out every 10 days. Derivative mass spectrometry and other advancements. What has and hasn't been followed up on.

Creating Community 79

Question about when the British Mass Spectrometry Society actually started. Slipping recollections. International meetings. How politics affects meeting plans. Royal Society Fellowship. Presenting a paper in Welsh.

Appendix: Interview with Gareth Brenton 88

Beynon's Royal Society post and the University College of Swansea. Life as Beynon's second post doc. IKES and MIKES. Publication schedule. Life in the Beynon lab. Instruments in the lab. Life in Wales. Rugby clubs.

Index 105

  About the Interviewer

Michael A. Grayson

Michael A. Grayson is a member of the Mass Spectrometry Research Resource at Washington University in St. Louis. He received his B.S. degree in physics from St. Louis University in 1963 and his M.S. 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.

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