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Burnaby Munson

  • Born: March 20, 1933, Wharton, Texas

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0688
Interview Date: April 9, 2010
Location: University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware
Interviewer: Michael A. Grayson
No. of pages: 82
Minutes: 135
Sponsor: American Society for Mass Spectrometry
American Society for Mass Spectrometry

  Abstract of Interview

Burnaby Munson hails from Wharton, Texas, a small town on the Texas Gulf coast and near the largest Frasch sulfur mine in the country.  His father, paternal grandfather, and paternal great-grandfather all were lawyers; his mother was the librarian at the high school.  Both parents and his paternal grandfather were graduates of the University of Texas, and it was assumed that Burnaby would also go to college.  He entered Tarleton State College in central Texas and transferred to the University of Texas in Austin, Texas.  The origin of his love of chemistry was unknown, but physical chemistry was his favorite subject.  He studied the reactions of acetylene while in Robbin Anderson’s lab.  Munson continued at Texas for a master’s degree, still in Anderson’s lab.  He spent a very cold year at the University of Wisconsin, working in John Margrave’s lab, researching (ironically) high-temperature inorganic chemistry.  He retreated to warm Texas, to Anderson’s lab, to finish his PhD.

Munson’s first job was with Humble Oil in Baytown, Texas, where he worked on solution thermodynamics, extracting paraffins from aromatics. Humble was collegial, and training continued with a lecture series organized by Joe Franklin, who was a good friend and mentor to Munson.  Franklin’s small group of high-profile scientists developed the field of ion chemistry in mass spectrometry (MS).  At that time, MS was a field limited by the large size and great expense of the instruments, but it was crammed with ground-breaking scientists, many of whom Munson discusses in the interview.  Munson published what he regards as his most significant paper while at Humble.  He also obtained his one patent, which was later sold to Scientific Research Incorporated.  Joe Franklin left Humble for Rice University, and the ion chemistry group began to break up.  Frank Field took his high-pressure instrument to New Jersey; Frederick Lampe went to Pennsylvania State University; and Munson took a position at the University of Delaware, where he has remained ever since, advancing to full professor with a named chair and many honors.

Munson was recruited to use Delaware’s two instruments, an old time of flight (TOF) and a new CEC 21-110.  He had always wanted to teach, especially undergraduates; he has taught freshman chemistry every year, and he helped establish and served as Director of the University Honors Program at Delaware.  He comments that teaching has become more difficult over the years because of safety regulations, legal concerns, and paperwork.  Furthermore, grants are more difficult to get.  He says the universities support overhead, not research; government supports development, not research.  

As a replacement for Joe Franklin and Frank Field, Munson attended his first American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) meeting, which he says was “a plum.”  He has since attended most of the American Society of Mass Spectrometry (ASMS) meetings, which subsumed ASTM, and he was president of the Society.  Munson answers the interviewer’s questions about other important mass spectrometrists he has worked with; about how MS and ASMS have changed over the years; and about the growing influence of biological applications in MS.  Munson concludes the interview with his regret over being easily tired and therefore not able to travel to ASMS meetings or to visit friends.  He mentions his internal debate about retirement locations:  Delaware, where his life has been for forty-five years, or Texas, where he would not have to “shovel heat.”


1952 A.A. Tarleton State College
1954 B.A., Chemistry with Highest Honors, University of Texas, Austin
1956 M.A., Chemistry, University of Texas, Austin
1959 Ph.D., Physical Chemistry, University of Texas, Austin

  Professional Experience

Esso Research and Engineering Company

1959 - 1962

Research Chemist

Esso Research and Engineering Company

1962 - 1966

Senior Research Chemist

Esso Research and Engineering Company

1966 - 1967

Research Specialist

University of Delaware

1967 - 1972

Associate Professor, Chemistry Department

University of Delaware

1972 - present

Professor, Chemistry Department

University of Delaware

1973 - 1975

Acting Chair, Chemistry Department

University of Delaware

1976 - present

Professor, University Honors Program

University of Delaware

1986 - 1989

Director, University Honors Program

University of Delaware

2005 - present

C. Eugene Bennett Chair, Chemistry Department



Excellence in Teaching Award, University of Delaware


Spectroscopist of the Year, Delaware Chapter, Society for Applied Spectroscopy


Mortar Board Award for Excellence in Teaching


Mortar Board Award for Excellence in Teaching


Mortar Board Award for Excellence in Teaching


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


Award for Scientific Achievement and Contributions in Chemistry, Delaware Section, American Chemical Society


Francis Alison Award, University of Delaware


Outstanding Faculty Mentor, University of Delaware, College of Arts and Sciences


Distinguished Contribution in Mass Spectrometry, American Society for Mass Spectrometry


Madison Marshall Award, North Alabama Section, American Chemical Society


Service Award, Delaware Section, American Chemical Society


Excellence in Teaching Award, Alpha Lambda Delta, University of Delaware Chapter


Medal of Distinction, University of Delaware


Special Issue: European Journal of Mass Spectrometry, dedicated to Jean Futrell and Burnaby Munson


Outstanding Achievement in the Fields of Analytical Chemistry, Eastern Analytical Symposium


Chemical Pioneer Award, American Institute of Chemists


Outstanding Older Worker, Experience Works

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Early Years 1

Born in Wharton, Texas.  Father, grandfather, great-grandfather lawyers.  Mother high school librarian.  Mother, grandmother, sister all college graduates.  Parents’ expectations.  Texas Gulf coast.  Frasch sulfur mine.  High school chemistry teacher.

College and Graduate School Years 11

Entered Tarleton State College in central Texas.  Transferred to University of Texas in Austin, Texas.  Origin of love of chemistry unknown.  Physical chemistry his favorite subject.  Worked in Robbin Anderson’s lab, studying reactions of acetylene.  Continued at University of Texas for master’s degree, still in Anderson’s lab.  University of Wisconsin for a year.  John Margrave’s lab, working on high-temperature inorganic chemistry.  Back to Anderson’s lab to finish PhD.

First Job 13

Humble Oil in Baytown, Texas.  Worked on solution thermodynamics, extracting paraffins from aromatics.  Important publication.  Funding from U.S. Army.  Humble connected to Esso; hence advantages of both small and large companies.  Joe Franklin and ion chemistry (IC).  Frederick Lampe left, Munson took his place.  Seminar series organized by Franklin; included Eugene Rochow and Ilya Prigogine.  Esso’s main labs in Linden, New Jersey.  First layoffs at Humble about the time Munson left.  Size of mass spectrometry (MS) field limited because instruments expensive and large.  Frank Field’s high-pressure MS.  Victor Talrose, D.P. Stevenson, D.O. Schissler, Catherine Fenselau.  Thomas Aczel and first MS9 in country.  Publications in several journals.  Rare gas atoms.  Hornbeck-Molnar process.  Reactions of hydrocarbons important to process.  Field took instrument to New Jersey, then Rockefeller University.  Wilburn Geiger.  CH5+ and C2H5+.  Michael Gross and ion cyclotron resonance.  Possible uses for methane.  Ratios of product ions the beginning of chemical ionization.  Publication in Journal of the American Chemical Society because of Field’s reputation.  Henry Fales and biological molecules.  Fast atom bombardment (FAB).  Important technique, but took some time to catch on.  Field’s sabbatical and year at University of Leeds with Michael Henchman.  Esso’s ion chemistry fundamentalists moved to New Jersey; Aczel and Lumpkin stayed in Baytown.  Munson did radiation chemistry for a change.  Franklin went to Rice University; Lampe to Pennsylvania State University.  

University of Delaware Years 28

Recruited by William Mosher.  Old time-of-flight (TOF) and new 110 instruments.  Munson had always wanted to teach, especially undergraduates.  Has taught freshman chemistry every year.  Several different chemistry sequences.  Established honors sequence.  Using TOF for class research, the modified 110 for high pressure.  Got another instrument from Du Pont.  Size of school, region of origin of students.  Intercollegiate Student Chemistry Convention.  Exotic chemistry and thermochemistry.  “Polish” ammonia.  Chemical ionization continues; negative chemical ionization.  Donald Hunt.  Ion cyclotron resonance with Douglas Ridge.  Munson’s patent went to Scientific Research Incorporated, William Johnston’s company.  Teaching more difficult now because of safety regulations, legal concerns, paperwork.  Universities support overhead, not research.  Grants more difficult to get.  National Institutes of Health support development, not research.  Pharmaceutical companies not hiring so many now.

General Thoughts and Reminiscences 48

Attending his first meeting of American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM).  Fred Lossing.  ASTM expands, becomes American Society for Mass Spectrometry (ASMS).  Munson one of first presidents.  Prefers posters to talks.  Society, meetings have changed over the years.  Jean Futrell; Austin Wahrhaftig; Donald Wetlaufer.  John Fenn’s Nobel Prize for electrospray.  Marvin Vestal’s thermospray close to electrospray.  TOF, now improved by reflection and electronics, useful again.  Biological applications growing, fundamentalists decreasing.  John Beynon’s book best about MS.  Franklin a good friend, mentor; great influence on MS; first president of ASMS; a good cook.  Franklin continued ion chemistry at Rice University (originally Rice Institute); with wife, Mildred, sociable and friendly.  Lumpkin and Aczel continued analytical procedures.  Henry Rosenstock did calculations of rate constants of reactions.  Munson did not know O.P. Tanner.  Frank Field was Munson’s mentor.  Futrell at Baytown for a while, did radiation chemistry.  Munson consulted with Vestal on high pressure for MS9; Vestal’s personality.  Debating retirement locations: Delaware vs. Texas.  Munson’s health.

Bibliography 63

Index 70

  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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