New Search

Frank H. Field

  • Born: February 27, 1922, Keansburg, New Jersey
  • Died: April 12, 2013, Durham, North Carolina

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0636
Interview Dates: December 9, 2009 and December 10, 2009
Location: Durham, North Carolina
Interviewer: Michael A. Grayson
No. of pages: 106
Minutes: 225
Sponsor: American Society for Mass Spectrometry
American Society for Mass Spectrometry

  Abstract of Interview

Frank H. Field was born in Keansburg, New Jersey.  Orphaned at an early age, he was raised in Cliffside Park, New Jersey, by an aunt, an uncle, and a grandmother.  Somehow when he was a young teenager he saw a chemistry set that he desperately wanted.  He did get the set, and he found what he wanted to do with his life.  He had a good, solid public school education, which enabled him to be a candidate for college.

Field entered Duke University, placing a year ahead in chemistry.  He had very little money, and to meet his expenses he worked in the school dining hall and graded math papers.  When World War II began, Duke’s chemistry department had a contract with the federal government to do research work for defense purposes; during his junior and senior years Field held a full-time position as a lab technician, in addition to being a full-time student.  Things were going well for Field at Duke, and they asked him to enroll in graduate school there.  He worked on using fluorocarbons as hydraulic fluids to replace hydrocarbons on warships.  In addition he took pictures of experiments on solid rocket propellants.  He received his PhD for work in magnetochemistry.

Field accepted an instructorship, at that time a tenure-track position, at University of Texas.  Funding from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation did not exist, so his funding was very skimpy and came from the University.  He had worked in magnetochemistry, but the magnet he needed was too expensive for the University of Texas, so he looked around for something else to do.  Humble Oil & Refining Company gave an early mass spectrometer to the University, who gave it to Field.  He had to rebuild much of the machine, as all the glassware in the machine had broken in transit to Austin.  So began his mass spectrometry career.  He worked first on measuring the ionization potential of cyclopropane, which had not previously been measured.

To encourage development of basic science at Humble Oil, Joe Franklin persuaded Humble to set up summer courses for professors from various Texas universities, and Field attended one such program.  He and Humble liked each other, and Field left the University of Texas to work with Franklin at Humble Oil.  Field and Franklin wrote their first book together.  Standard Oil Company had bought Humble Oil, and Field eventually moved to Linden, New Jersey, to Esso Research and Engineering Company, where he continued his work on chemical ionization.

Feeling “out of the mainstream” at Esso, Field became receptive to the idea of working elsewhere.  He was recruited by Rockefeller University as a full professor.  He shifted into biochemical mass spectroscopy to be more in keeping with the biomedical orientation of Rockefeller.  He built the second Californium-252 mass spectrometer in the world.  A talk in Bordeaux, France, excited his enthusiasm for matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI) and he persuaded his postdoc, Brian Chait, to build one.  Biomedical mass spectroscopy has been able to grow wildly as result of desorption technique.

In 1989 Field retired and moved with his wife to Oak Ridge, Tennessee.  In 2004 he felt the need for a continuing care establishment, and the Fields moved to The Forest at Duke near Duke University.  In 2009, Field was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  He talks a little about his treatment and prognosis; Field hopes to recover enough to die of old age, as he says.  He then continues with the interview topics.  He says his only philosophy of science has always been to get a good job and do agreeable, useful work.  He believes, however, that a considerable amount of scientific innovation arises from chance observations.  He agrees that mass spectroscopy has contributed significantly to biology, but thinks that it is probably at its limits.  He says the United States needs to be scientifically competitive, particularly against fast-rising societies like China’s.  He then summarizes his interest in ionization and talks about other scientists in the field.

  Education

1943 B.S., Chemistry, Duke University
1944 M.S., Chemistry, Duke University
1948 Ph.D., Chemistry, Duke University

  Professional Experience

University of Texas, Austin, Texas

1947 - 1949

Instructor

University of Texas, Austin, Texas

1949 - 1952

Assistant Professor

Humble Oil and Refining Co., and Esso Research and Development, Baytown, Texas

1952 - 1953

Research Chemist

Humble Oil and Refining Co., and Esso Research and Development, Baytown, Texas

1953 - 1960

Senior Research Chemist

Humble Oil and Refining Co., and Esso Research and Development, Baytown, Texas

1960 - 1962

Research Specialist

Humble Oil and Refining Co., and Esso Research and Development, Baytown, Texas

1962 - 1966

Research Associate

Humble Oil and Refining Co., and Esso Research and Development, Baytown, Texas

1964 - 1966

Section Head

Esso Research and Engineering Co., Linden, New Jersey

1966 - 1970

Group Leader

Esso Research and Engineering Co., Linden, New Jersey

1966 - 1968

Research Associate

Esso Research and Engineering Co., Linden, New Jersey

1968 - 1970

Senior Research Associate

Rockefeller University

1970 - 1988

Director, Rockefeller University Extended Range Mass Spectrometric Research Resource

Rockefeller University

1970 - 1988

Professor, Laboratory of Mass Spectrometry & Chemistry of Gaseous Ions

Rockefeller University

1988 - 1989

Camille and Henry Dreyfus Professor

  Honors

1963 - 1964

John Simon Guggenheim Fellow

1970 - 1972

Vice President, American Society for Mass Spectrometry

1972 - 1974

President, American Society for Mass Spectrometry

1974 - 1976

Past President, American Society for Mass Spectrometry

1973 - 1975

Member, Petroleum Research Fund Advisory Board

1987

Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science

1988

Frank H. Field and Joe L. Franklin Award for Outstanding Achievement in Mass Spectrometry

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Early Years 1

Born in Keansburg, New Jersey.  Orphaned at eleven.  Lives with aunt, uncle, and grandmother.  Good high school education. Chemistry set sparks interest in chemistry.  Self-directed.

College Years 3

Enters Duke University, at that time a football school.  Places ahead a year in chemistry.  Works in dining hall and graded math papers to supplement income.  World War II.  As junior and senior works as research technician on a war research project.  Full-time student and full-time lab technician.  

Graduate School Years 9

Chooses Duke because he was doing well there.  Working as researcher for war effort.  Avoiding draft.  Works on using fluorocarbons as hydraulics to replace hydrocarbons on warships.  Takes pictures of experiments on solid rocket propellants.  Obtains PhD.

University of Texas Years 11

Accepts instructorship at University of Texas.  Tenure-track position.  Very little funding.  Magnetochemistry, but magnet too expensive.  Humble Oil & Refining Company gives early mass spectrometer to University.  Glassware in machine broken, Field rebuilds.  Beginning of his mass spectrometry career.  Early papers.  Cyclopropane.

Standard Oil Years 19

Worked with Joe Franklin.  First book with Franklin.  Olefin work.  Chemical Ionization.   Moves to Esso Research and Engineering Company in Linden, New Jersey.  Continues same research.

Rockefeller University Years 29

Feels out of mainstream at Esso.  Recruited by Rockefeller as full professor.  Chemical ionization work.  Begins biochemical mass spectroscopy work.  Builds second Californium-252 in world.  Talk in Bordeaux, France, excites enthusiasm for matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI); persuades Brian Chait to build one.  Biomedical mass spectroscopy grows as result of desorption technique.

Retirement Years 43

Moves to Oak Ridge, Tennessee.  Moves to  The Forest at Duke retirement community in Durham, North Carolina.  Develops pancreatic cancer.  Discusses treatment and prognosis.  Believes scientific innovation can occur from chance observations.  Mass spectroscopy has contributed significantly to biology, but probably at its limits.  Need to be scientifically competitive as a society.  More about interest in ionization.  Other scientists in field.

Bibliography 73

Appendix: Pictures of Field and Robertson at Humble 88

Index 92

  About the Interviewers

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.

Hear It Firsthand

The Center for Oral History captures and preserves the stories of notable figures in chemistry and related fields, with over 425 oral histories that deal with various aspects of science, of scientists, and of scientific practices. For more information please visit CHF’s Oral History Program or e-mail oralhistory@
chemheritage.org
.

Support CHF

Help us preserve and share the history of chemistry and related sciences. Make a tax-deductible donation online.