Jim Waters: The Development of GPC and the First HPLC Instruments

Aug 01, 2005
Volume 23, Issue 8, pg 752–761

Leslie S. Ettre
In the May issue of our magazine, I discussed the activities of Csaba Horváth in the 1960s, leading to the first modern, high-pressure liquid chromatograph (1). Naturally, however, his achievements do not imply that nothing had been done previously in converting liquid chromatography (LC) from a purely empirical, manual laboratory technique into a more controlled, automated instrumental method. According to Greek mythology, the Goddess Pallas Athena was born by jumping out of the head of Zeus, grown up and fully armed with spear and shield. However, this only happens in mythology or fairy tales. In science and technology, evolution is more or less gradual, and each major development has its antecedents.

Csaba Horváth's instrument was without question the first modern, high-pressure liquid chromatograph and as such, it essentially represented the start of the present-day instruments one can find today worldwide in almost every laboratory. However, by the middle of the 1960s, instrumentation already existed in two other branches of LC: in amino acid analysis by ion-exchange chromatography and in the investigation of molecular-weight distribution of polymers by the technique of size-exclusion (gel-permeation or GPC) chromatography. In fact, these instruments can be considered the first automated liquid chromatographs.

The development of the first gel-permeation chromatograph is closely connected with Jim Waters, the founder and for 20-years the leader of Waters Associates. However, his merit is not restricted to this single product line. By the end of the 1960s, he succeeded in becoming a major player in the meteorically growing field of LC, transforming his company into "the Liquid Chromatography People." Both achievements can be characterized as true milestones in the evolution of chromatography.

In October, Jim Waters is celebrating his 80th birthday. As a tribute to his many contributions to chromatography instrumentation, the present "Milestones" column will discuss his early career, his involvement in making GPC a standard laboratory tool, and the start of Waters Associates' involvement in LC.

Origin; Early Activities

The ancestors of the Waters family settled in 1640 in Salem, Massachusetts, and then, with the expansion of the United States, gradually moved westward, eventually reaching Nebraska in 1885. James Logan Waters was born there on October 7, 1925, but in 1942 the family moved back to Massachusetts. As all the young men of his generation, after Pearl Harbor, Jim joined the Armed Services, enrolling in the Navy's officer's training program. He graduated in 1946 from Columbia University, New York, New York, with a B.S. degree in physics and a commission as an ensign in the U.S. Navy. After a short period as a naval officer, he joined Baird Associates, a small company in the Boston area making spectrographs. At that time, the U.S. government issued a number of reports on science and technology in Germany during the war, and Jim read the one on instrumentation. This inspired him to set up his own company, J.L. Waters, Inc., with the aim of developing scientific instruments based upon descriptions in this report.

The postwar period can be characterized as the start of the transformation of chemistry from "wet" methods of classical analysis to the use of instruments based upon some physical measurement. This transformation was best characterized in 1962 by H.A. Liebhafsky, with his famous sentence: "Like it or not, the chemistry is going out of analytical chemistry" (2). Jim established a connection with Mine Safety Appliance Co. (MSA), a company in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and designed and built for them an infrared gas analyzer. In 1955, he sold his small company and the design of this instrument to MSA, receiving enough money to continue as an independent instrument developer. Then, in 1958, he formed a new company, Waters Associates.

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