This Day in History (20-Oct-1950) – Chemists Archer John Porter Martin gives the first demonstration of gas chromatography

Archer John Porter Martin grew up in London, England, and from an early age demonstrated an aptitude for chemistry. As a child, he designed and built an apparatus for distillation from old coffee tins packed with charcoal, some as tall as five feet. He entered Cambridge University with the intention of pursuing a degree in chemical engineering. However, he was influenced by J. B. S. Haldane to specialize in biochemistry. At Cambridge his childhood experience with fractional distillation became valuable.

Very few chemical reactions produce clean, pure products with no trace of starting materials or impurities. Most generate a mixture whose individual components must be purified before the results can be identified. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, purification of a chemical reaction product often required repetitive crystallizations, distillation, or solvent extraction.

Martin continued with his explorations of multi phase separation technology and went to work as a research chemist for the Wool Industries Research Association in Leeds. It was there that he met Richard Lawrence Millington Synge and began to collaborate with Synge on the problem of separating acetylamino acids. Eventually, Martin and Synge came up with the idea that, instead of using a counterflow extraction process with solvents moving against one another, they could partition one phase (hold one phase stationary using an appropriate support). The result was the invention of liquid-liquid partition chromatography, first reported in the Biochemistry Journal in 1941.

In their landmark paper, Martin and Synge also indicated that partition chromatography that used a carrier gas as the mobile phase was possible. Martin and Synge were awarded Nobel prize in Chemistry in 1952. Today, gas-liquid chromatography is probably the single most widely used analytical tool in chemistry.




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