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Mark A. Ratner

  • Born: August 12, 1942, Cleveland, Ohio

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0335
Interview Date: April 7, 2006
Location: Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Interviewers: Arthur Daemmrich and Cyrus Mody
No. of pages: 87
Minutes: 248
Sponsor: Nanotechnology

  Abstract of Interview

Mark A. Ratner begins the interview by describing his early connection to science while growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, working at the Harshaw Chemical Company as a high school summer job, and switching between various majors as an undergraduate student at Harvard University. After Harvard, Ratner attended graduate school at Northwestern University and became a postdoctoral fellow in Denmark and Munich. Upon returning to the US, Ratner began teaching at New York University forseveral years and worked with graduate student Avi Aviram to explore molecular rectifiers (later called molecular electronics). Ratner returned to Northwestern in 1975,this time as a faculty member in the Chemistry Department. Next Ratner reflected on collaboration with various institutions such as IBM and DARPA, and the development of molecular electronics research with Aviram. Moving on to the Gordon Research Conferences, Ratner described his experiences as an organizing chair; a memberof the board of directors; and being on steering and selection (S&S) committee. Finally, Ratner concluded the interview reflecting on evolving funding practices, the importance of having a staff at research centers, and offering some thoughts on the future of nanotechnology.


1964 B.A., Chemistry, Harvard University
1969 Ph.D., Chemistry, Northwestern University

  Professional Experience

Aarhus University, Denmark

1970 - 1971 Postdoctoral Fellow

New York University

1971 - 1975 Associate Professor, Chemistry

Northwestern University

1975 - 1979 Associate Professor, Chemistry

Northwestern University

1979 - 1994 Professor of Chemistry

Northwestern University

1980 - 1984 Associate Dean, College of Arts and Sciences

Odense University, Denmark

1984 Postdoctoral Fellow

Northwestern University

1988 - 1991 Chair, Department of Chemistry

Northwestern University

1994 - 2007 Morrison Professor of Chemistry

Northwestern University

2007 - Present Lawrence B. Dumas Distinguished University Professor


1972 - 1975 A.P. Sloan Foundation Fellow
1980 Fellow, Advanced Study Institute, Hebrew University
1981 Fellow, American Physical Society
1992 Fellow, American Association for Advancement of Science
1993 Fellow, Advanced Study Institute, Hebrew University
2001 Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
2002 Member, National Academy of Sciences
2002 Feynman Prize
2004 Langmuir Award
2004 Foreign Member, Royal Danish Academy of Science
2004 Member, International Academy of Quantum Molecular Sciences
2005 Mulliken Medal
2005 Dr. Sci. (H.C.), Hebrew University of Jerusalem
2008 Hirschfelder Prize in Theoretical Chemistry, University of Wisconsin

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Family History and Early Life Experiences 1

Influence of Sputnik on childhood education. High school summer job at Harshaw Chemical Company. Family influence and encouragement.

Education 5

Undergraduate studies at Harvard University. Switching majors between mathematics, English, and chemistry. Summer research with Eugene Rochow. Graduate school at Northwestern University. Reflections on the Northwestern chemistry department. Research with G. Ludwig Hofacker. Writing graduate thesis.

Early Career 19

Postdoctoral fellowship at Aarhus University with Jan Linderberg. Gradually moving away from formal theoretical chemistry. Teaching at New York University. Setting up a research laboratory. Becoming Ari Aviram's advisor. Interest in molecular rectifier research. Connection with IBM through Aviram. NYU reorganization and decision to return to Northwestern.

Career Development 31

Research collaborations. Interactions with DARPA. Impressions of John Pople. Development of molecular electronics research with Aviram.

Gordon Research Conferences 46

Attending, chairing and organizing conferences. Involvement with GRC governance. Broad of Directors and Selection and Scheduling Committee duties.

Thoughts on research and collaboration 52

Works of other molecular electronics researchers and their impact. Thoughts on having joint students and post-docs with other researchers. Differences in today's funding practices versus the past.

Concluding thoughts 62

Setting up research centers at Northwestern and importance of having a staff. Spin-off companies development. The future of nanotechnology.

Index 76

  About the Interviewer

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.

Cyrus Mody

Cyrus Mody is an assistant professor of history at Rice University. Prior to that position he was the manager of the Nanotechnology and Innovation Studies programs in the Center for Contemporary History and Policy at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. He has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical and materials engineering from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in science and technology studies from Cornell. He was the 2004–2005 Gordon Cain Fellow at CHF before becoming a program manager. Mody has published widely on the history and sociology of materials science, instrumentation, and nanotechnology.

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