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Robert E. Finnigan
Robert Finnigan with Model 1020 GCMS/Data System
Robert Finnigan with Model 1020 GCMS/Data System
Born Robert Emmet Finnigan
May 27, 1927(1927-05-27) (age 94)
Buffalo, New York
Nationality American
Alma mater University of Illinois, U.S. Naval Academy (Class of 1949)
Spouse(s) Bette Van Horn
External video
“Robert Finnigan -- Computerized GC/MS and Environmental Chemistry”, Legends of Environmental Chemistry, 2008

Robert Emmet Finnigan (born May 27, 1927) is an American pioneer in the development of gas chromatography–mass spectrometry equipment (GC/MS). Finnigan founded the Scientific Instruments Division of Electronic Associates, Inc., producing the first commercial quadrupole mass spectrometer in 1964. He then formed Finnigan Instruments Corporation to combine a computer system with a quadrupole mass spectrometer and gas chromatograph. Finnigan's GC/MS/computer systems are used to detect and identify trace organic compounds, making them important instruments for the monitoring and protection of the environment. They were adopted by the United States Environmental Protection Agency as a standard instrument for monitoring water quality and were fundamental to the work of the EPA.[1][2]

Early life and education[edit | edit source]

Robert Finnigan was born on May 27, 1927, in Buffalo, New York to Charles M. and Marie F. Finnigan.[3]:iii, 1[4] He was one of seven children, who were raised primarily by their father after their mother's early death.[5]

Robert Finnigan entered the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland in June 1945,[3]:16 graduating in 1949 with a Bachelor of Science.[3]:iii On April 1, 1950, he married Bette Earl Van Horn at Perrin Air Force Base in Sherman, Texas.[4] The couple had met while he was at Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City, Florida.[3]:23[4]

Because of his strong interest and aptitude in electrical engineering, he was able to enroll in an Air Force Institute of Technology program that sent qualified officers to graduate school.[3]:20–21[6] In 1952, he entered the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, receiving an M.S. in electrical engineering in 1954 and a Ph.D. in electrical engineering in 1957.[3][7] His master's thesis work with Edward C. Jordan used the ILLIAC to solve complex mathematical functions in antenna theory. For his Ph.D. he researched servomechanism theory with Gilbert Fett, completing the thesis Transient Analysis of Non-Linear Servomechanisms Using Describing Functions with Root-Locus Techniques.[3]:26[8]

Lawrence Livermore Laboratory[edit | edit source]

In 1957, as a Captain in the United States Air Force, Robert Finnigan joined the University of California Radiation Laboratory at Livermore (later the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory). Finnigan worked on Project Pluto, a United States government program to develop nuclear powered ramjet engines for the Supersonic Low Altitude Missile (SLAM), a type of cruise missile. Finnigan led the group that developed computer control systems for the nuclear reactor that powered the missile.[3]:28–38[7]

In 1959, Finnigan had the choice of rotating to a different tour of duty in the Air Force, or resigning from the Air Force and staying at Livermore. He remained at Livermore for two more years. Finnigan's group developed the Tory II-A prototype and Tory II-C reactor and controls, which were tested at the Nevada Test Site in the 1960s.[3]:28–38[7]

Stanford Research Institute[edit | edit source]

In 1962, Finnigan and one of his coworkers, physicist and nuclear engineer P. Michael Uthe, Jr., left Livermore to work for the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in Palo Alto, California.[7] Finnigan was hired to establish a process controls group in SRI's control systems lab. SRI did contract research projects for both business and the military.[3]:40–42 One of the projects underway at SRI, led by Kenneth R. Shoulders, was developing a quadrupole mass spectrometer. Finnigan saw the potential for using the quadrupole broadly as a detector for instrumentation and process-control,[7] and began trying to find support for its development and commercialization.[3]:40–42

Electronic Associates, Inc.[edit | edit source]

In 1963, Finnigan and Uthe joined Electronic Associates, Inc. (EAI). The main research department of the company was based in Princeton, New Jersey, but Finnigan founded a new Scientific Instruments Division in Palo Alto, California.[7] Finnigan's vision involved creation of a broad-based line of process-controlled instruments, beginning with the quadrupole mass spectrometer.[3]:47 Based on previous research at SRI, Finnigan was convinced that a market existed, but EAI and other companies such as IBM and Beckman Instruments were not interested in developing the quadrupole as a product at that time.[3] Finnigan's group proposed to contract parts of the quadrupole production to SRI, but management at SRI were not interested in its commercial development either. Eventually Finnigan collaborated with staff from SRI, who supplied knowledge and expertise to help Finnigan's group bootstrap development of a prototype quadrupole analyzer at EAI.[3]:47–60[9] Because of the strong market demand the EAI division was able to sell more than 500 of these quadrupole residual gas analyzers between 1964 and 1966.[9]

Finnigan wanted to pursue development of computer-controlled instrumentation for a combined gas chromatograph (GC) and quadrupole mass spectrometer (MS). Hpwever, EAI's main focus was analog computers, and they were not interested in developing a computerized GC/MS.[9] On December 31, 1966,[3]:69 after EAI unsuccessfully attempted to sell the division to Syntex Corporation, Finnigan submitted his resignation to EAI.[9]

Finnigan Instrument Corporation[edit | edit source]

In 1967, Finnigan formed Finnigan Instrument Corporation with venture capital from Roger Sant and T. Z. Chu. He was joined by Michael Story from EAI, and William Fies from SRI.[5][7][10]

In early 1968, Finnigan Instrument Corporation delivered its first prototype quadrupole GC/MS instruments. One was sent to Nobel prizewinner Joshua Lederberg at Stanford University. The other was sent to Purdue University.[7][9] The first commercial model for a computerized GC/MS, Finnigan's Model 1015/System 150, was introduced soon after for a price of $100,000. The first delivery went to Evan Charles Horning and Marjorie G. Horning at Baylor Medical College.[7] For three years, Finnigan was the only company producing a computerized GC/MS. The next one to be introduced came from the Hewlett-Packard Company in 1971.[11]:112

Quadrupole mass spectrometry offered advantages in terms of size, cost, speed and sensitivity compared to the magnetic-sector mass spectrometry equipment most commonly used at that time.[5] Quadrupoles offered high sensitivity and high pressure tolerance. They could operate with a low voltage ion source. Rapid scanning became feasible because computers could be used to step the spectrometer from one ion peak to the next. This allowed acquisition and display of data in real-time, and gave operators the potential to interact with the system and modify what was being monitored.[12]:287 A major strength of the instrument was precise quantitation. It could be used to detect trace contaminants in environmental samples, to identify drugs in a case of overdose, and to measure drug metabolites.[12]:294–297

After the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established in 1970, it became a major customer for Finnigan's GC/MS.[5][11] The EPA surveyed possible monitoring instruments for use in monitoring organic pollutants. Speed, cost, and performance were all important concerns. The target machine was projected as having the ability to scan for pesticides with a resolving power of 1,000 to 10,000, across a broad range of 10 nanograms to one microgram. A computer-controlled system was desirable. An international array of instruments were reviewed, of which only two used quadrupole technology. An expert panel recommended Finnigan's quadrupole GC/MS to the EPA for further evaluation, and twenty Finnigan Model 1015/System 150 instruments were ordered soon after by the EPA.[11]:108 Finnigan published a 1979 study, based on users, indicating that in spite of the high initial cost of the equipment, the Finnigan GC/MS was reliable and cost-effective.[13] By 1979, the Finnigan GC/MS was the preferred instrument at the EPA for the analysis of environmental pollutants in water and wastewater.[1][14][15] The models most generally used were Finnigan Corporation's 1015 and 3000 series of quadrupole mass spectrometers with a data system based on DEC's PDP-8 computers.[14] The EPA also based its instruction manuals and standards for environmental testing on the Finnigan GC/MS, publishing the results in the Federal Register in 1979.[2][16] By 1984, all public water was to be tested by using a GC/MS apparatus.[17] In the 1980s, an estimated 60-70% of Finnigan's GC/MS sales went to the environmental market.[5]

GC/MS technology, of which Finnigan Instrument Corporation's instrument was the first, was the technical underpinning that made it possible for the EPA to carry out its regulatory efforts in the 1970s.[1][2] About 100 organic compounds could be identified in water prior to 1970. By 1975, nearly 1500 organic pollutants had been identified. Without the ability to detect such compounds, their monitoring and regulation would not have been possible.[2]

When Finnigan Instrument Corporation was acquired by Thermo Instrument Systems (later Thermo Fisher Scientific) in 1990, the firm was considered "the world's leading manufacturer of mass spectrometers".[18] Robert Finnigan continued to consult for the company for several years after the acquisition. He has also consulted with other entrepreneurial companies.[5]

Other activities[edit | edit source]

Robert Finnigan served on the board of directors of the trade organization American Electronics Association (AEA). He and Dean O. Morton were founders of the AEA's Environmental and Occupational Health activities.[3]:93 Finnigan also co-founded the Organization Internationale Metrology Legale (OIML) for legal metrology. With the support of the National Bureau of Standards (NBS) they developed protocols for international regulations in fifty-one nations. In many cases, these closely matched the standards of the EPA.[3]:94

Awards and honors[edit | edit source]

  • 2017, "From Discovery to Precision Medicine: Mass Spectrometry Through the Years and Beyond" at Pittcon 2017, a session focused on the contributions of Robert E. Finnigan[19][20][21]
  • 2008, Selected for "Legends of Environmental Chemistry" by American Chemical Society, ACS annual meeting, New York[22]
  • 1999, Instrumentation Hall of Fame (Charter Member) by Pittcon, American Chemical Society and Chemical Heritage Foundation[3][23]
  • 1994, Selected as a Pioneer in Development of Analytical Instrumentation by Pittsburgh Conference (Pittcon) and American Chemical Society[24][25][26][27]
  • 1980, Distinguished Service in Engineering, College of Engineering, University of Illinois[28]
  • 1975, Distinguished Alumni Award, Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, University of Illinois[15][29]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Practical Mass Spectrometry A Contemporary Introduction. Boston, MA: Springer US. 1979. p. 220. ISBN 978-1461329848. https://books.google.com/books?id=b6veBwAAQBAJ&pg=PA220. Retrieved 23 February 2017. "The EPA has made a major commitment to GC-MS instruments... Most of the GC-MS instruments in the EPA are Finnigan quadrupoles with DEC PDP-8 minicomputer data systems... The many needs for firm qualitative organic identifications include ...(i) the causes of taste or odor in drinking water, (ii) the distribution of toxic compounds in surface or wasterwater..." 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Grob, Robert L. (2004). Modern practice of gas chromatography. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Interscience. ISBN 978-0-471-22983-4. https://books.google.com/books?id=2L_H2l5STa8C&pg=PA772. Retrieved 6 February 2017. "Finnigan Corporation produced the first stand-alone gas chromatograph and quadrupole mass spectrometer system in 1968 and a year later introduced an integrated computer data system to operate it... The USEPA purchased six GCMS systems in 1971 and subsequently used them to develop the early GCMS methods, which were published in the Federal Register in 1979." 
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 3.16 3.17 Brock, David C. (4 December 2001). Robert E. Finnigan, Transcript of an Interview Conducted by David C. Brock at Los Altos, California on 4 December 2001. Philadelphia, PA: Chemical Heritage Foundation. https://oh.sciencehistory.org/sites/default/files/finnigan_re_0227_full.pdf. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "Miss Von Horn Is Lovely Bride of Lt. Robert Finnigan". Panama City News-Herald from Panama City, Florida. April 9, 1950. p. 3. https://www.newspapers.com/newspage/39114066/. Retrieved 31 January 2017. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 Webb-Halpern, Leah (2008). "Detecting Success". p. 31. 
  6. Annual register of the United States Naval Academy. Annapolis, Md. U.S. Government Printing Office. 1946. p. 121. https://archive.org/details/annualregiste19451946unse/page/120. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 7.8 Nier, Keith A.; Yergey, Alfred L.; Gale, P. Jane (2015). The Encyclopedia of Mass Spectrometry Volume 9: Historical Perspectives, Part B: Notable People in Mass Spectrometry. Elsevier Ltd.. pp. 79–80. ISBN 978-0-08-100379-4. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/book/9780081003794. Retrieved 31 January 2017. 
  8. Finnigan, Robert Emmet (1957). Transient Analysis of Nonlinear Servomechanisms Using Describing Functions With Root-Locus Techniques. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 Brock, David C. (2011). "A Measure of Success". https://www.sciencehistory.org/distillations/magazine/a-measure-of-success. Retrieved 20 January 2017. 
  10. "Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry". https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/whatischemistry/landmarks/gas-chromatography-mass-spectrometry.html. Retrieved 19 Nov 2019. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Grayson, Michael A. (2002). Measuring mass : from positive rays to proteins. Philadelphia, Pa.: Chemical Heritage Press. pp. 104–119. ISBN 978-0941901314. https://books.google.com/books?id=qQ7EE9MXVx0C&pg=PA114. Retrieved 4 February 2017. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 Story, M. S. (1976). "Applications to gas chromatrography". Quadrupole mass spectrometry and its applications. Amsterdam: Elsevier Scientific Pub. Co.. pp. 287–306. ISBN 978-0-444-41345-1. https://books.google.com/books?id=A6o3BQAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=The+development+of+the+quadrupole+mass+filter+(Dawson,+1976)&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiJ_pGu3vTRAhVK2SYKHdLLA40Q6AEIVzAI#v=onepage&q=Finnigan&f=false. Retrieved 6 February 2017. 
  13. Finnigan, Robert; Hoyt, David; Smith, David (May 1979). "Special Report: Priority Pollutants. II - Cost effective analysis". pp. 534–542. Digital object identifier:10.1021/es60153a612. 
  14. 14.0 14.1 Budde, William L.; Eichelberger, James W. (1979). EPA-600/8-79-006 : An EPA manual for organic analysis using gas chromatography - mass spectrometry. Environmental Protection Agency. pp. 2, 4. https://nepis.epa.gov/Exe/ZyNET.exe/9100T9DX.txt?ZyActionD=ZyDocument&Client=EPA&Index=1976%20Thru%201980&Docs=&Query=%28Standard%29%20OR%20FNAME%3D%229100T9DX.txt%22%20AND%20FNAME%3D%229100T9DX.txt%22&Time=&EndTime=&SearchMethod=1&TocRestrict=n&Toc=&TocEntry=&QField=&QFieldYear=&QFieldMonth=&QFieldDay=&UseQField=&IntQFieldOp=0&ExtQFieldOp=0&XmlQuery=&File=D%3A%5CZYFILES%5CINDEX%20DATA%5C76THRU80%5CTXT%5C00000018%5C9100T9DX.txt&User=ANONYMOUS&Password=anonymous&SortMethod=h%7C-&MaximumDocuments=1&FuzzyDegree=0&ImageQuality=r75g8/r75g8/x150y150g16/i425&Display=hpfr&DefSeekPage=x&SearchBack=ZyActionL&Back=ZyActionS&BackDesc=Results%20page&MaximumPages=1&ZyEntry=26. Retrieved 5 March 2017. ""(page 2) Several chapters of the manual (Chapters 2, 4, 7, 8, and 9) describe in detail the operation and maintenance of the Finnigan Corporation's models 1015 and 3000 series GC/MS systems with datasystems based on a Digital Equipment Corporation model PDP-8 minicomputer. This information was included and emphasized because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) owned more than thirty Finnigan 1015 and 3000 series GC/MS systems and a similar number of PDP-8 GC/MS datasystems. These models of spectrometers and datasystems are in widespread use, and the general community should find these specialized chapters of interest and value. Users of other types of GC/MS systems will find information of general interest ... (page 4) The purpose of this chapter is to provide the basic information required for the successful operation of the computerized gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer (GC/MS). The chapter is oriented to the Finnigan Corporation's models 1015 and 3000 series quadrupole mass spectrometers with data systems that utilize Digital Equipment Corporation model PDP-8 computers. However, certain portions of this chapter, such as the quality control procedure in Section 2.6, are readily applied to other mass spectrometer systems."" 
  15. 15.0 15.1 "Distinguished Alumni Awards: Robert E. Finnigan". http://engineering.illinois.edu/engage/distinguished-alumni-and-friends/distinguished/article/5654. Retrieved 31 January 2017. 
  16. ENVIRONMENTAL MONITORING AND SUPPORT LABORATORY (March 1979). EPA-600/4-79-019 HANDBOOK FOR ANALYTICAL QUALITY CONTROL IN WATER AND WASTEWATER LABORATORIES. CINCINNATI, OHIO: U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-06/documents/QCHandbook.pdf. Retrieved 6 February 2017. "The EMSL [Environmental Monitoring and Support Laboratory of the United States Environmental Protection Agency], with the cooperation of many other EPA GC/MS users, has produced a procedural manual (2) generally for use with a Finnigan quadrupole instrument." 
  17. Charalambous, George (1984). Analysis of foods and beverages : modern techniques. Orlando: Academic Press. p. 181. ISBN 978-0-12-169160-8. https://books.google.com/books?id=rRqVL0Iof2UC&pg=PA181&lpg=PA181. Retrieved 6 February 2017. "In 1971, the EPA, already concerned with this problem, selected a computerized GC/MS system as its principle tool for the analysis of drinking water and of industrial and municipal effluents that are returned to the public water supply. [Finnigan was the only commercial system available from 1968 to 1971.] ... by mid-1984, all public water in the United States must be controlled using these or equivalent methods." 
  18. "Thermo Instrument Systems Inc. History". International Directory of Company Histories (Volume 11 ed.). St. James Press. 1995. pp. 513–514. http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/thermo-instrument-systems-inc-history/. Retrieved 23 January 2015. 
  19. Roberts, Jody (March 5–9, 2017). From Discovery to Precision Medicine: Mass Spectrometry Through the Years and Beyond. Chicago, IL: Pittcon Conference 2017 Final Program. https://ca.pittcon.org/Technical%20Program/tpabstra17.nsf/focus/7109bc42b509f1468525801300510a49?OpenDocument&nav=type&cat=Organized%20Contributed%20Sessions&Click=. Retrieved 5 December 2017. 
  20. Brock, David (March 5–9, 2017). The Commercialization of Quadrupole Mass Spectrometry and GC/MS/DS: An Historical View. Chicago, IL: Pittcon Conference 2017 Final Program. https://ca.pittcon.org/Technical%20Program/tpabstra17.nsf/focus/5857643F3C061B0F8525803D00690260?opendocument&nav=type&cat=Organized%20Contributed%20Sessions. Retrieved 5 December 2017. 
  21. Hunt, Donald F. (March 5–9, 2017). A Brief History (1974-2016) of Mass Spectrometry Instrumentation Driving Cutting-Edge Biological Research that then Stimulates Development of New Mass Spectrometry Instrumentation. Chicago, IL: Pittcon Conference 2017 Final Program. https://ca.pittcon.org/Technical%20Program/tpabstra17.nsf/focus/400077986304DA6085258014006DE256?opendocument&nav=type&cat=Organized%20Contributed%20Sessions. Retrieved 5 December 2017. 
  22. Cooney, Catherine M. (November 2008). "Legends built the foundation for today's success". pp. 7734–7735. Digital object identifier:10.1021/es802513x. PMID 19031852. 
  23. "Pittcon Heritage Award". 2016-05-31. https://www.sciencehistory.org/pittcon-heritage-award. Retrieved 31 January 2017. 
  24. "Pittcon '94". 4 June 2012. pp. 547A–550A. Digital object identifier:10.1021/ac00081a735. 
  25. Wright, Judith (1999). Vision, Venture, and Volunteers: 50 Years of History of the Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy. Philadelphia, PA: Chemical Heritage Foundation. p. 160. ISBN 9780941901192. https://books.google.com/books?id=a2YQFeXFgs8C&pg=PA160. Retrieved 5 December 2017. 
  26. "Masthead". 14 December 2011. pp. 936A–941A. Digital object identifier:10.1021/ac00091a703. 
  27. Finnigan, R. E. (1994). "Quadrupole Mass Spectrometers: From Development to Commercialization". pp. 969A–975A. Digital object identifier:10.1021/ac00091a002. 
  28. "Distinguished Alumni Awards". https://engineering.illinois.edu/engage/distinguished-alumni-and-friends/distinguished/. Retrieved 5 December 2017. 
  29. "Distinguished Alumni Award". https://www.ece.illinois.edu/alumni/awards/distinguished.asp. Retrieved 31 January 2017. 

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