The Birth of Partition Chromatography

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506 LCGC VOLUME 19 NUMBER 5 MAY 2001 www.chromatographyonline.com Milestones in The Birth of Partition Chromatography When still in high school, Martin became fascinated by fractional distillation and even built in the basement of his house some long distillation columns from empty coffee cans, soldered together. He originally planned to be a chemical engineer, but at Cambridge he changed to biochemistry upon the influence of Professor J.B.S. Hal- dane. As a teenager, Synge had already become fascinated by how living things functioned and, thus, he also majored in biochemistry at Cambridge. After graduation, both Martin and Synge remained at Cambridge as graduate stu- dents, although their paths had not yet crossed. Martin joined the Dunn Nutri- tional Laboratory and was involved in research on vitamin E. He started separating carotenes by distribution between two sol- vents using separating funnels. Being always interested in engineering, he eventually built a very complicated laboratory machine, consisting of 45 5-foot-long tubes con- nected to one another and serving as the extraction funnels: 90 ball valves rattling loudly on their seats prevented the liquid from dropping back to the previous tube. In this machine (details of which have never been published but were only included in his doctoral thesis) Martin could carry out very efficient countercurrent extraction. Meanwhile, Synge was active at the uni- versity’s biochemical laboratory, and in 1938 he was offered an unusually generous schol- arship by the International Wool Secretariat (IWS). Interestingly, both Martin and Synge had seen demonstrations of the potential of adsorption chromatography during this time. Martin participated in a lecture by Dr. Winterstein of Kuhn’s laboratory (in Heidel- berg, Germany) showing a chromatographic separation on a short CaCO3 column. Although Martin immediately recognized the similarity between the chromatographic technique and the theory of distillation, he did not further pursue this subject at the time. However, he evidently stored this observation in his memory. About the same time, Synge also saw a demonstration of the chromatography of sea urchin pigments. According to his recollections, “Everybody Chromatography In June of 1941, almost exactly 60 years ago, the (British) Biochemical Society held its 214th meeting in London, at the National Institute for Medical Research. At this meeting, A.J.P. Martin and R.L.M. Synge, two young chemists (Martin was 31 and Synge 26) presented a paper on the separation and determination of the mono- amino monocarboxylic acids present in wool using a new method (1). This lecture and its subsequent detailed publication rep- resent the birth of partition chromatography (2). Exactly 10 years later, Martin and another young scientist, 29-year-old A.T. James, submitted the manuscript of a major paper that described an extension of parti- tion chromatography in which the mobile phase was a gas (3). This publication repre- sents the birth of gas–liquid partition chro- matography (GLPC). On the occasion of these two anniver- saries, we shall discuss in this “Milestones in Chromatography” column these milestones, probably the most important in the long evolution of chromatography since its dis- covery by M.S. Tswett almost 100 years ago. Without these inventions, this magazine would not exist and most of our readers would have some other job, maybe titrating or trying to isolate chlorophyll from some hundreds of kilograms of dried stinging net- tle, as done in Willstätter’s laboratory 96 years ago (4). The invention of partition chromatogra- phy and the development of GLPC are fas- cinating stories. Fortunately, they are recorded fairly well in the Nobel Lectures of Martin (5) and Synge (6) and in the per- sonal recollections of the principal players (7–10). I also had the honor of personally knowing them, discussing with them a number of times the background of their pioneering work. This column is based on these publications and personal informa- tion. The Start at Cambridge University Both Martin and Synge were students at Cambridge University in England — Mar- tin graduated in 1932 and Synge in 1936. On the occasion of the 60-year anniversary of the invention of partition chromatography and the 50-year anniversary of the introduction of gas–liquid partition chromatography, this installment of “Milestones in Chromatography” discusses the circumstances that led to these developments and outlines the work of A.J.P. Martin, R.L.M. Synge, A.T. James and their co- workers, which opened new chapters in chromatography. Leslie S. Ettre Milestones in Chromatography Editor

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