Thursday, April 25th, 2019

Group History


History of the Washington Baltimore Mass Spectrometry Discussion Group

Past Speakers

Past Chairs

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History of the Washington Baltimore Mass Spectrometry Discussion Group Prepared by a Second Generation Participant

The Washington Mass Spectrometry Discussion Group had been active for about five years when I joined the Johns Hopkins Medical School in 1967. Physical chemists at the National Bureau of Standards held major influence in the group at that time, and an obituary prepared in 20111 reports that founders included Joseph D’Amico (Food and Drug Administration), Henry Fales (National Institutes of Health), Henry Rosenstock (National Bureau of Standards) and Fred Saalfeld (Naval Research Laboratory). My participation was welcomed, despite Baltimore’s geographic distance. The original group met monthly (nine months of the year) at rotating sites across the greater D.C. area, and I learned the Washington road map by driving to meetings at Catholic University, George Washington University, St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, and other locations. In May 1972 I hosted the Discussion Group in Baltimore to hear Walter Koski (Johns Hopkins University) discuss his studies of ion chemistry using a collision cell in a tandem mass spectrometer.

By 1974 the group had been reorganized to simplify planning and to accommodate an expanding membership. Program responsibilities were transferred from a steering committee to program co-chairs. Concurrent until 1995, the two-year co-chair terms are now offset. Generally, the program chairs are younger volunteers, who come from a variety of mass spectrometry disciplines. The steering committee still functions, comprising the treasurer, a secretary now evolved into a communications officer, the current program co-chairs and several past program co-chairs. The Washington Baltimore Mass Spectrometry Discussion Group (WBMSDG) was incorporated in 2011, activating IRS reporting. The co-chairs, treasurer and communications officer were designated as a board of directors. A list of co-chairs back to 1973 is available elsewhere on the WBMSDG website

In fall 1974 the group began meeting every month at the Hewlett Packard Regional Office on Choke Cherry Lane in Rockville MD, which provided a fine lecture hall and a pleasant outdoor picnic area. Beverages were provided at the meetings by Wayne Sieck and later Ed White, and a picnic was hosted in the spring. The WBMSDG has met irregularly through the years with the Washington Chromatography discussion group. In the early 1980’s the group began meeting once a year at Hopkins Medical school, and during this time their name evolved to the Washington Baltimore Mass Spectrometry Discussion Group. The last meeting at Hopkins was a memorial service for Bob Cotter in Nov. 2012.

The program, then and now, includes both local and outside speakers. One memorable event at the Hewlett Packard location was a lecture on the new technique of field desorption mass spectrometry, presented in October 1975 by Hans-Rolf Schulten (Bonn University). More than 100 scientists attended the lecture and spring picnic, symptomatic of growing interest in the analysis of less volatile biological samples and the attendance record to the present time. In December 1976 Don Hagge (Incos Corp.) presented an especially prescient lecture on “mass spectrometer information optimization using data systems.” Among many distinguished speakers, both regional and from afar, John Fenn addressed the group twice (October 1989 and

February 1995) before he received the Nobel prize, and again shortly afterward (March 2003). Also in 2003, the WBMSDG participated in a reception for Nobelist Koichi Tanaka at the Maryland Science Academy in Baltimore. A number of scientists have spoken to us three or even four times, however the record is held by Amina Woods, who starred six times through 22 years (December 1996, March 2001, April 2005, December 2007, December 2011 and December 2018.) A record of speakers from 1982 on can be consulted on the WBMSDG website or obtained from the communications officer.

From the earliest days program announcements were managed out of NRL, first by surface mail and later by email. Members benefitted significantly when John Callahan transferred the meeting announcements to email in 1994. In 1996 John developed an NRL-hosted website for the group. That website has been hosted by a third-party company since 2003. E-mail announcements were hosted by the FDA 2003- 2013, at which time they were also moved to a third-party host. Currently the email list contains more than 450 addresses.

Members of the Discussion Group introduced a short course on interpretation of electron impact spectra at the 1977 meeting of the American Society for Mass Spectrometry, held in Washington D.C. Proceedings of the conference and business meeting for that year report that 37 students were enrolled, that a small grant was provide by the FDA, and that financially the course broke even.2 This successful initial offering seeded the growth of short courses at ASMS, which had expanded to eighteen as of the 2019 national meeting. WBMSDG members presented courses at annual ASMS conferences from 1977 through 2011. Both the nature of spectra being interpreted and the identities of the faculty evolved through this period. We took pride in the fact that most of the instructors were Federal employees most of the time (including Larry Phillips, Jim Kelley and John Callahan). For several years WBMSDG members also offered a short course in quantitation at ASMS.4 Financial compensation for all our short courses went to the Discussion Group treasury, rather than the individual instructors.

Since 2000 the WBMSDG has met regularly at the Shimadzu Scientific Instruments Training Center in Columbia MD, which provides lecture rooms of flexible size and a large pleasant indoor eating area. Food and non-alcoholic beverages are served at every meeting. In addition to Washington D.C. universities and many Federal laboratories, scientists from local companies participate, and the contingent from Baltimore includes the University of Maryland Baltimore, UMBC, and Hopkins Medical School. Across nearly three decades research groups participated from the University of Delaware, often arriving in a University van with a faculty driver.

As early as 1973, instrument manufacturers (and, later, other associated companies) began to provide annual support to the WBMSDG. These sources of income allowed the Group to bring speakers from a distance occasionally, and to provide beverages and (at Shimadzu) food before each lecture. This further facilitated local networking. Commercial sponsors were and still are invited to make presentations at Manufacturers’ Night, the first meeting in the fall. Beginning in 1983, WBMSDG has held a Post-ASMS meeting after the national ASMS meeting, where everyone is invited to present their ASMS poster. With its budget secured by short- course income and company sponsorships, in 1997 the WBMSG began awarding graduate student travel stipends to participate in the annual ASMS conferences. The catchment area of eligibility for

these travel Fellowships extends from Newark DE to Charlottesville VA. At the Post -ASMS meeting, funded students give short talks about their research. A distinguished list of awardees can be seen in a separate list on the website.

From its beginning, the objectives of this Discussion Group have emphasized networking, problem solving and continuing education. Many students trained in local universities have found positions in Federal laboratories and local companies. Successful government/academic collaborations have frequently resulted. Knowledgeable speakers have kept our expertise at the state-of-the-art across multiple subspecialties. Finally, we have a lot of fun at the monthly meetings.

1. Critiques of and contributions to this report have been provided generously by John Callahan (FDA), James Kelley (NIH), Sanford P. Markey (NIST), Asher Newsome (Smithsonian Inst.) and Yan Wang (UMD).
2 . Sanford P. Markey, Obituary for Henry M. Fales, J. Amer. Soc. Mass Spectrom. 2011, 22: 789-790.
3. Larry I Bone, Report of Committee IX on Education, Proceedings of the Annual Conference on Mass Spectrometry and Allied topics,1977.
4. A. L Yergey, Report of Committee on Education, Proceedings of the Annual Conference on Mass Spectrometry and Allied Topics,1994

Catherine Fenselau, January 2019 Distinguished University Professor emerita University of Maryland, College Park MD 20742


Past Speakers


Past Chairs