John Fenn (chemist)

John Bennett Fenn ( born June 15, 1917 in New York City; † December 10, 2010 in Richmond, Virginia ) was an American chemist who, together with Koichi Tanaka and Kurt Wüthrich received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2002.


John B. Fenn was born in New York City and grew only in Hackensack, New Jersey, and after the family moved in Berea, Kentucky, on. He earned at Berea College Bachelor of Arts degree and received his PhD in 1940 in chemistry at Yale University.

During his studies, he married Margaret Wilson, who died in New Zealand in a car accident in 1992. They had three children together.

After receiving his doctorate Fenn worked for three years in a research department of the Monsanto Chemical Company in Anniston, Alabama and then in the research department of Sharples Chemicals in Wyandotte, Michigan. In 1945 he started for the company experiment, Inc to work on the Project Bumblebee, one commissioned by the United States Navy commissioned development of air defense missile with ramjet. From 1952 he headed the Project SQUID at Princeton University, one from the state Office of Naval Research ( ONR ) sponsored project to investigate improved rocket propulsion. In 1955 he took over for a year in London Office of the ONR the post of liaison officer to then continue working in Princeton on Project Bumblebee.

Finally, Fenn joined in 1962 as a professor at Yale University, during which he conducted his later awarded the Nobel Prize in Research on Macromolecules. In 1983, Fenn the Humboldt Research Award for his achievements in the field of molecular beam physics and chemistry. Through this award a twelve-month collaboration with Jan Peter Toennies was at the Max Planck Institute for Flow Research in Göttingen. They conducted research into the further development of jet technology. From 1994, Fenn was a professor of analytical chemistry at Virginia Commonwealth University.

John Bennett Fenn died on December 10, 2010 in Richmond, Virginia.

Scientific performance

2002 Fenn received together with Koichi Tanaka "for the development of methods for identification and structure analyzes of biological macromolecules " half the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The other half of the prize was the Swiss Kurt Wüthrich "award for his development of nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to ensure that the three-dimensional structure of biological macromolecules in solution " to explore.

The merit of the fen is undisputed, as for the determination of large biomolecules the hitherto usual mass spectrometry for chemical analysis is inappropriate: Here Mixtures of chemicals are first vaporized, then electrically charged and then exposed to electric fields. The method employed here the evaporation would destroy large biomolecules, however.

Fenn solved the macromolecules initially in water to them is to suspend a 3000 -volt field and to evaporate slowly the water, which the electrically charged molecules were further study accessible now, and after acceleration of the undestroyed charged molecules whose mass by calculating " flight time " could be calculated over a known distance. His method known as electrospray ionization (ESI ), he published in 1988. Preliminary results, which are in connection with this publication, however, were already 1983/84 developed in Germany in collaboration with Jan Peter Toennies at the Max Planck Institute for Flow Research.

The relevance for practical application is difficult to overestimate, as this now also complex pharmacological substances are researched and produced, as was shown in the mid- 90s with the development of HIV protease inhibitors to combat AIDS.

Apparatus Claims of electrospray ionization were subject of an ongoing court case in 1996 between Fenn and Yale University. Fenn was sentenced in 2005 to pay Yale for a million dollars compensation, and to entrust parts of patent law.



  • John B. Fenn, Engines, Energy and Entropy - A Thermodynamics Primer, 1982, San Francisco, ISBN 0-7167-1281-4