The 2018 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. Supelco has sponsored this prestigious award since 1970 when the award became dedicated solely to chromatography.

To receive this recognition, the winner must have made an outstanding contribution to the field of chromatography with particular consideration given to development of new methods. The 2018 winner is Dr. Janusz Pawliszyn, University Professor and Canada Research Chair, Department of Chemistry, at the University of Waterloo.2 Dr. Pawliszyn was cited for the invention, development, and commercialization of universal, ultraviolet, and fluorescence modes of whole- column imaging detection technology.3  

he American Chemical Society (ACS)

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


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

We: Our Company’s mission statement “solving the toughest problems in the industry by collaborating with the global scientific community” seems to mirror your career path. Can you give us some highlights on your experience collaborating with your industry partners?

Janusz Pawliszyn (JP): I am an inventor. I strive to come up with new concepts - paradigm shifts that no one else has thought of. These concepts may actually go against the common understanding.

I realize the technology, but I need partners to bring it to users, to make it into something that can be adopted into routine methods. My industry partners are necessary to bring these concepts into reality. The whole column imaging detection technology was commercialized in combination with capillary isoelectric focusing initially by Convergent Bioscience, which was acquired by Protein Simple. As another example, I started working with Supelco in the early 1990’s to develop and commercialize SPME (solid phase microextraction).4 That fruitful collaboration continues today. However important these partnerships are, there is a challenge keeping the technology in focus as companies are bought and sold, strategies evolve, and people move on or change position. I have a role to keep the technology fresh and interesting and demonstrate why the innovation is important to the scientific community.

We: You are well known as the inventor of the SPME technique, which is such a breakthrough technology. Can you tell us what the inspiration was that caused you to go down the research path that led to SPME?

JP: Although I enjoy my life very much, I don’t need to drive a Ferrari to be happy! I prefer to minimize my footprint I leave on this earth. So I was always interested in the development of green technologies. I saw the irony that many environmental methods used a lot of organic solvents and toxic, hazardous reagents. I wanted to replace these with more green methods. In the late 1980’s I was working with SFE and microfluidics devices that used optical fibers as a component of the detection system. I thought, why don’t I use the optical fibers to introduce the sample to the analytical system via laser desorption, volatilizing the sample directly into the injector of the GC? This was the beginning. From then, my group experimented with different fiber clads (coatings) to optimize the adsorption-desorption process based on the analyte and matrix. The original fiber holders used parts of syringes. The first application we used to demonstrate the potential of SPME was the analysis of BTEX compounds in water using a bare fiber without any cladding.

We: SPME is beginning to find application in life sciences, like blood and tissue sampling in clinical and medical labs. Can you talk a bit about where you see this application going, why the medical and scientific community should get excited about it?

JP: We have been working on SPME for a long time in environmental and food matrices, which are very complex and are similar in many ways to clinical and medical samples. We always were successful in showing that indeed you get a good representation of the sample onto the fiber; our fundamental studies confirmed that. Now you ask: Why would any medical researcher want to use it? Well, talk to surgeons, they’ll tell you why. The small fiber doesn’t damage the tissue like a biopsy does, so it is obviously a huge advantage. Not only surgeons, but scientists working with muscle and brain disorders, are all very interested in SPME for non-destructive tissue sampling. This is where SPME is differentiated from sampling techniques that can only handle fluids, which SPME also does well. Looking into metabolomics applications, with SPME not only can you pick out the target analyte, but you can also pick out the full representative metabolite coverage for the given tissue. Besides tissues and fluid sampling, applications of SPME include breath analysis to detect cancer biomarkers. So you see, SPME is unique in being able to perform non-invasive microsampling of all types of biological samples – tissue, fluids, and breath. There is no question of what the technology can do. The question is how to put it into practice. The more people try the technology, the more they become excited by it. We have all the ammunition, in terms of fundamental studies and actual usage, to say this really works, there is so much evidence for it.5

We: I like the quote below your email signature "Life is a laboratory. Experiment." Can you give us some insight into what that means to you? How do you experiment in your daily life, at home or at work?

JP: Some people misunderstand this quote. I promote the science to understand what is happening around us. What I mean is that life is an experiment – by someone or something – so investigate it, ask questions, seek answers. That is what is so exciting to me about the biological applications of SPME. It helps us understand how life works.

We: For the ACS award, you were actually cited for the development of whole column imaging detection (WCID). What is the connection between WCID and SPME?

JP: This device of whole column detection goes along with the goal of “on site” analysis or at least rapid analysis and screening. It is a combination of optical imaging technology and column separations. When I began using optical fibers for SPME, I was also interested in imaging technology. Imaging technology was also available for the communications industry, and you could buy components like LEDs, laser diodes, charge-coupled devices (CCD), quite cheaply, and they could be interfaced to a computer to read an image. Obviously you cannot look into the small 100 micron capillary by eye, but if you design the optics which can introduce the light in the center and have a CCD below, you can actually detect what is inside the capillary using spectroscopic means. One separation technology in particular, isoelectric focusing, was amenable to this approach because in focusing you have a stationary system without any electroosmotic flow (EOF). However controlling EOF is not that simple. So what I came up with is the concept of a stationary system using special deactivation of the capillary wall using a methylcellulose coating, which produces a layer that has no EOF. Then we used this method of focusing which is just mixing the protein samples with the carrier ampholytes to produce a pH gradient. Proteins are separated according to their isoelectric point (pI). When the proteins are stationary in the capillary, we can then take a picture of the assembly of separated proteins. Not only can we see the final separation, but we can also monitor the kinetics of the separation process so we can optimize the time of the separation, and perform other kinetic studies like protein-protein interactions and protein binding. And we don’t need to mobilize the proteins into the detector; we can detect the separated proteins directly inside the capillary. So we have eliminated the mobilization step and subsequent band dispersion giving much higher resolution compared to mobilization. Detection is immediate, so it is much faster. You just need to wait until the proteins are focused. Since the capillary is very short, they focus very fast. And you can miniaturize the set-up because we have very short capillaries.6 It is not surprising that the device has become a platinum standard instrumentation in product development and QC in the biotech industry.

We: Looking ahead 25 years, what are your predictions on the breakthroughs that the 2043 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!

JP: They will be cited for new green technologies! This has two parts. First, it involves eliminating the use of toxic substances in the labs, reduced or eliminated use of solvents and reagents. Second, they will be cited for the design of instrumentation that can be used at the point of need, to give accurate, rapid answers, possibly in place of sending the sample back to a central laboratory, or to rely on that laboratory only for confirmation.



  1. ACS Award in Chromatography, (accessed April 21, 2018).
  2. University of Waterloo, Pawliszyn Research Group. Home Page. (accessed April 21, 2018).
  3. ACS Award in Chromatography: Janusz Pawliszyn. Chemical & Engineering News [Online], Vol. 96, Issue 2. articles/96/i2/ACS-Award-Chromatography-Janusz-B.html (accessed April 21, 2018).
  4. Arthur, C. L.; Pawliszyn, J. Solid phase microextraction with thermal desorption using fused silica optical fibers. Anal. Chem., 1990, 62, 2145-2148.
  5. Reyes-Garcés, N.; Gionfriddo, E.; Gómez-Ríos, Md., G. A.; Alam, N.; Boyacı, E.; Bojko, B.; Singh, V.; Grandy, J.; and Pawliszyn, J. Advances in Solid Phase Microextraction and Perspective on Future Directions (Review). Anal. Chem., 2018, 90 (1), 302–360.
  6. Wu, X-Z.; Liu, Z.; Huang, T.; Pawliszyn, J. Whole-column imaging- detection techniques and their analytical applications. TrAC-Trends in Anal. Chem. 2005, 24, 369-382.