With mass spectrometry we can now quickly identify a substance in a sample by accurately determining its molecular mass. Mass spectrometry is a very widely used method for small and medium-sized molecules. John B. Fenn and Koichi Tanaka showed, in different ways, that macromolecules could also be studied. The trick was to get the proteins to fly, or as John Fenn himself said, to give “wings to molecular elephants”.
John B. Fenn is the chemist who invented the electrospray method. Today it is used in laboratories all over the world. Fenn has worked mainly as Professor of Chemistry at Yale University, USA, and at Virginia Commonwealth University, USA.
Koichi Tanaka worked as a research engineer at Shimadzu Corp. in Kyoto, Japan when he was telephoned by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm: you have been awarded the Nobel Prize! Tanaka’s idea was to use the energy from laser light, ingeniously transferred to the proteins, to get them to let go of one another and hover freely. It worked!