Professor Fred McLafferty

6th Jan 2022

On 26th of December, 2021, our community lost a pioneer and a giant of the field, Professor Fred W. McLafferty, at the age of 98.  He passed at home with family, and will be greatly missed.  His influence in the field is so vast that few people appreciate the extent of what he has done for the field.  Despite his undergraduate degree being abbreviated and being sent to the western front in the war, he returned, completed his MSc and trained as a synthetic organic chemist at Cornell, gaining his PhD in 1950.  In the 1950’s, he developed Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry while working at Dow Chemical Company and developed the rules of fragmentation of electron impact fragmentation that later became his famous tome “Interpretation of Mass Spectra”, which is probably the single most influential book in our field.  At the same time, he created the first databases of electron impact mass spectra and continued expanding that work for the rest of his life; the Wiley database he created is currently around 500k EI spectra and Fred personally checked every single one, so although it’s a smaller database than the NIST database, it is much higher quality.  He then returned to academia first at Purdue University and then got headhunted to Cornell University, where he first developed and spent most of his career working on high resolution mass spectrometry and then tandem mass spectrometry (with Collision Induced Dissociation, which he called Collisionally Activated Dissociation) using sector mass spectrometers.  At the time of retirement in 1991, he shifted directions taking up whole protein analysis using FTICR mass spectrometers and developed many methods including electron capture dissociation, thus establishing the basis for the field now known as “Top-down proteomics”.   He was always ahead of his time, usually by decades, leading the field in new directions.

Fred's work has has significant impact on all UK mass spectrometrists for over 6 decades, and his interveiw for the ASMS Oral History project is well worth study

His obituary can be found at,

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