15 March 2016

MagLab chemist honored for high-impact invention

Trailblazer for Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance joins the ranks of Henry Ford, Thomas Edison.

Alan Marshall.

Alan Marshall.

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Alan Marshall, whose long career has been studded with accolades for his transformative work in mass spectrometry, just received another feather for his crowded cap: He has been named one of seven 2016 inductees into the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame.

Nominees to the Hall of Fame must be connected to Florida and have at least one U.S. patent. With eight to his name, Marshall more than fits the bill. In 1973 he co-invented Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance (FT-ICR) mass spectrometry, used to analyze complex structures like petroleum molecules and proteins. He has spent the ensuing decades developing the field, collecting patents and awards along the way. In 1993 his path brought him to the Florida State University-headquartered National MagLab, where he serves as Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and chief scientist for ICR.

Since then, he has done anything but rest on his laurels, said Gary Ostrander, Vice President for Research at FSU.

"Co-inventing a powerful, new approach to mass spectrometry is very impressive, but Dr. Marshall did not stop there," said Ostrander. "He has devoted a long, productive career to working tirelessly to promote FT-ICR by finding new applications and traveling the world to educate scientists about how it can advance their research goals."

One measure of that impact is the number of FT-ICR instruments in use worldwide. In 1973, there were only about 35 ion cyclotrons available, and their applications were limited, according to Marshall. Today, thanks to the work of Marshall and other pioneers in the field, there are 800. Marshall has trained some 160 graduate students and postdocs over the years, who in turn have gone on to grow the field.

"FT-ICR MS provided the first routine access to ultrahigh-resolution mass analysis, and thus set the bar that stimulated the improvement of other mass analyzers in that direction," said Marshall. Today, FT-ICR can address problems other mass spectrometers cannot, he said, from characterization of oil spills to identification of protein biomarkers to mapping the contact surfaces in protein complexes.

"I can't wait to see what lies around the next corner in those fields," Marshall said.

Marshall is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Chemical Society (ACS) and the Society for Applied Spectroscopy. His many awards include the Ralph and Helen Oesper Award from the Cincinnati Section of the ACS, the William H. Nichols Medal from the New York Section of the ACS, and the Chemical Pioneer Award from the American Institute of Chemists.

Marshall and his fellow honorees will be inducted during a special ceremony in Tampa in September, when they will join the ranks of previous inductees including Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and "father of air-conditioning" John Gorrie.

Story by Kristen Coyne.


The National High Magnetic Field Laboratory is the world’s largest and highest-powered magnet facility. Located at Florida State University, the University of Florida and Los Alamos National Laboratory, the interdisciplinary National MagLab hosts scientists from around the world to perform basic research in high magnetic fields, advancing our understanding of materials, energy and life. The lab is funded by the National Science Foundation (DMR-1157490) and the state of Florida. For more information, visit us online at nationalmaglab.org or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest at NationalMagLab.