John Fenn

John Fenn, Professor Emeritus of Chemical Engineering, received the 2002 Nobel Prize in Chemistry from King Carl Gustaf of Sweden, on December 10th, 2002.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced October 9 that John Fenn of the United States, Koichi Tanaka of Japan and Kurt Wuethrich of Switzerland won the 2002 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for advances in the analytical chemistry of large biological molecules that will have have huge societal impact and may lead to the understanding the processes of life itself. Winners will share the $1 million prize.

"Their work has paved the way for the future finding of a cure for cancer," said Bengt Norden, chairman of the Nobel committee for chemistry. The techniques developed by the Nobel Laureates assist with diagnosing cancer, monitoring doping in sports, analyzing environmental pollution, and have many other applications.

Dr. Fenn did his pioneering research on electrospray ionization while at the Department of Chemical Engineering at Yale. It may be the first time that work done in an engineering department has been recognized with a Nobel prize.

Electrospray ionization has brought about a revolution in the field of mass-spectrometry. It made possible the analysis by mass spectrometry of large and complex molecules of biological interest with extraordinary precision and ease. It is a soft ionization technique, that is, it is sufficiently gentle to transform such molecules into intact ions ready for mass analysis. Moreover, such ions carry so many charges that their mass/charge ratios are always within the range of modest mass -spectrometer mass filters.

Dr. Fenn used to say, while at Yale, that the dawning of a new era in the mass spectrometry of biomolecules was just one more fruit from the tree of his thirty year love affair with big leaks in vacuum systems. Dr. Fenn, Professor Emeritus of Chemical Engineering, knew that his "deliberate leaks" would long continue to be a rich source of both basic information and solutions to practical problems. "What more could an engineer want?"

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