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The 2017 ACS Award in Chromatography

The American Chemical Society (ACS) recognized pioneers in the chromatography field by establishing the Award in Chromatography and Electrophoresis in 1959. In 1970, when the award became dedicated solely to chromatography, Supelco, after only three years as a company, began sponsoring this prestigious award. Our uninterrupted sponsorship continues now.1

To receive this recognition, the winner must have made an outstanding contribution to the field of chromatography with particular consideration given to developments of new methods. The list of past award recipients is virtually a who’s who in chromatography pioneers (Table 1). The 2017 winner is Dr. Robert (Bob) Kennedy, the Willard Professor of Chemistry, professor of pharmacology, and Distinguished University Professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.2 Dr. Kennedy was cited for the development of innovative techniques in miniaturization of chemical separations and microfluidics for highly sensitive analysis of biological compounds.

Dr. Kennedy (center) receiving his award from Dr. Paul Ross (right), Director R&D and Technology, Analytical Separations, MilliporeSigma. On the left is ACS President Dr. Allison Campbell.

Dr. Kennedy (center) receiving his award from Dr. Paul Ross (right), Director R&D and Technology, Analytical Separations. On the left is ACS President Dr. Allison Campbell.


We posed some questions to Dr. Kennedy and wanted to share his insightful answers with our readers

There are so many different chemistry disciplines to choose from. What made you gravitate toward analytical chemistry, and separations in particular?

Dr. Kennedy (BK): I started out in organic chemistry as an undergraduate researcher simply because I first learned that undergrads could do research during my organic class. After working on it for a while I found that I was much better at getting the instruments to work than getting the reactions to work. I was always drawn to the more mathematical aspects of chemistry and liked physical/analytical the best. Just something cool about being able to express results in numbers.

What keeps you writing those grants year after year?

BK: I need the money! But seriously, an interesting thing about analytical chemistry is that you are never done. Once you get a good result, there is always more improvement to be had. We have spent years trying to develop “separations-based sensors” to monitor brain chemistry in vivo. We have made great improvements over the state of the art 20 years ago, but still we can’t capture many important chemical changes in the brain. We have a long way to go.

High throughput screening has played role in your research, especially as it applies to bioanalysis. Are there any particular bottlenecks in the analytical, and especially LC/MS, workflow that your team is trying to address?

BK: For us it has been about getting the sample into the instrument. There are fast chromatographs  and mass spectrometers, but sample injection is slower than the separation. Fixing this is “boring” but necessary.

When you look at global current events, what role do you think we, as chemists, can play toward painting a brighter future for humankind?

BK: I am writing this the day after the “March for Science” which really gets you thinking about exactly this question. It is pretty clear that just about any challenge we face requires some chemistry-based improvements (but also political will and societal drive): feeding the world in a more energy efficient manner, producing clean energy, decreasing the cost of advanced medical diagnostics and medicines, greener synthesis. The other part is constantly educating the public about science and how it works. It is disturbing to see the rise of an “anti-vaccine” movement and forgetting the improvements we have made in air and water quality.

The list of past award recipients is virtually a who’s who in chromatography pioneers. Are there any scientists you have followed or benchmarked while developing your own prestigious career?

BK: I really admire all of these people. I would point to Milos Novotny as someone who does something that I try to do. He has several biological problems that he is truly interested in and he invents new analytical techniques to solve those problems; a true “bioanalytical” chemist.

Looking ahead 25 years, what are your predictions on the breakthroughs that the 2042 ACS Award in Chromatography recipient may be cited for? It’s interesting to think that person is just starting their career as we write this.

BK: I think about several trends. One is extreme separations; using many dimensions to separate every complex mixtures. I think a future awardee will have a way of performing three or more dimensions of separation in the time we now think of doing a regular chromatogram and resolving 100,000 compounds. A second trend is portable/miniaturized. We are seeing rapid advances and interest in paper microfluidics and other simple devices. Ultimately that will drive a taste for more complex analysis that requires separations in the same environment. Someone will think of a good way to do that. There is also definitely room for improvement in separations of large heterogeneous

molecules. Proteoform, molecular machines, and synthetic polymers are examples. Right now we are used to just getting “blobs” but perhaps better resolution is possible. Finally, it is possible that the best advance for separations will come not from “chromatographers” but from mass spectrometry. Improvements in ionization might allow quantitative results with the very high resolution mass spectrometry instruments.

Speaking of the future, do you have any advice for young people considering a career in chemistry?

BK: Do it! It is a great field and there is so much to do. But be open-minded about how your career can go. I’ve seen people have great success who have started academics and then moved to industry or began in industry and then started their own companies.


Recipient Year
Robert T. Kennedy 2017
Harold McNair 2016
Milton T. W. Hearn 2015
Susan Olesik 2014
Paul R. Haddad 2013
Wolfgang F. Lindner 2012
Purnendu K. “Sandy” Dasgupta 2011
Udo A.T. Brinkman 2010
Nobuo Tanaka 2009
Frantisek Svec 2008
J. Michael Ramsey 2007
John G. Dorsey 2006
Patrick J.F. Sandra 2005
Shigeru Terabe 2004
William S. Hancock 2003
Edward S. Yeung 2002
Ernest Bayer 2001
Charles W. Gehrke 2000
Daniel W. Armstrong 1999
Georges Guiochon 1998
Peter W. Carr 1997
Stellan Hjerten 1996
Klaus K. Unger 1995
William H. Pirkle 1994
James W. Jorgenson 1993
Josef F. K. Huber 1992
Hamish Small 1991
John H. Knox 1990
Fred E. Regnier 1989
Milton L. Lee 1988
Charles H. Lochmuller 1987
Milos V. Novotny 1986
Leslie S. Ettre 1985
Lloyd R. Snyder 1984
Csaba G. HorvÁth 1983
Barry L. Karger 1982
Marcel J. E. Golay 1981
James E. Lovelock 1980
Evan C. Horning 1979
A. J. P. Martin 1978
Raymond P. W. Scott 1977
James S. Fritz 1976
Egon Stahl 1975
Lockhart B. “Buck” Rogers 1974
Albert Zlatkis 1973
Joseph Jack “J. J.” Kirkland 1972*
Julian F. Johnson 1970

*no award was presented in 1971