"MS: The Practical Art" Editor, Kate Yu, spoke to Fred McLafferty about his pioneering career in mass spectrometry (MS).
Kate Yu: What brought you into the field of mass spectrometry (MS)?
FM: I went on active duty in April 1943, just after finishing a BS in chemistry and mathematics at the University of Nebraska (Nebraska, USA). A month before the war ended in Europe, our 2nd Battalion, 253rd Infantry, captured a major remaining German ammunition depot in a fierce battle against an elite SS unit that promised Hitler "no retreat". The battalion members were awarded a Presidential Unit Citation. During this action platoon sergeant John R. Crews of my rifle company was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for personally saving part of another company that was trapped. I was wounded earlier the same day.
KY: Why did you come back to the field of chemistry after the war?
FM: I was offered a battlefield commission from sergeant to officer rank, so I had a "career choice", but I doubt that such a career would allow the "fun participation" that I am having at my present age.
KY: Looking back at your career, who was the most influential person for you?
FM: Professor Franklin A. Long, who was at the Cornell University Chemistry Department from 1937 to 1999, was a very special scientific role model and friend during my graduate work from 1947 to 1949, and after I joined the faculty in 1968. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, Assistant Director of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and on the Science Advisory Committees for three US Presidents. But by far the most important person in my life for 65 years has been my wonderful wife: Elizabeth "Tibby" Curley McLafferty.