The 2014 LCGC Awards (Part 2)

May 21, 2014

The seventh annual LCGC Awards continue the time-honoured tradition of celebrating the careers of outstanding chromatographers. We are proud to announce that the 2014 Emerging Leader in Chromatography Award is presented to André de Villiers. This is the second of a two-part feature in The Column charting the career and accomplishments of the awardees.

Photo Credit: Science Photo Library - MEHAU KULYK/Getty Images
LCGC's 2014 Emerging Leader in Chromatography award winner, André de Villiers, received his Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry and biochemistry (1997), his Honours Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry (cum laude, 1998), his Masters of Science degree in analytical chemistry (cum laude, 2000), and his doctoral degree in analytical chemistry (2004) from Stellenbosch University in South Africa. De Villiers says his interest in analytical science began with the start of his postgraduate studies. In 1999 he was very unsure of his future plans, but decided to meet with two professors, Henk Lauer and Pat Sandra. At that meeting, de Villiers decided to pursue analytical chemistry. "Looking back now, it seems a highly fortuitous conglomeration of circumstances that made this possible," said de Villiers. "Essentially, my career path was determined by a 30-minute discussion with Pat Sandra and Henk Lauer."

From the point of view of Lauer, who is currently the managing director of HLCE and was one of de Villiers's supervisors of his masters and PhD theses, the timing of de Villiers's decision was perfect, given the changes that were going on at Stellenbosch University at the time. Ben Burger, a professor and the director of the Laboratory for Ecological Chemistry (LECUS), had decided that Stellenbosch University needed a chemistry department with a focus on separation science, so he enlisted Pat Sandra, who was then at the University of Ghent and also a director of his own Research Institute of Chromatography (RIC), to set up such a department. According to Lauer, Sandra made sure that a strong programme was established, and he imported a lot of instrumentation from Europe and helped secure funding for the new department. "De Villiers brought his talent at the right time and the right place," said Lauer. "He showed his talent with excellent study results, a great understanding of the analytical problems, and use of the instrumentation available then."

André de Villiers
De Villiers did his postdoctoral studies at the Pfizer Analytical Research Centre (PARC) at Ghent University in Belgium, from 2004 to 2006. From there he decided to return to Stellenbosch University as a lecturer in chemistry, a position he held from August 2006 to July 2008. In August 2008, de Villiers was promoted to senior lecturer of chemistry, and he remained in that position until December 2012. In January 2013, he was promoted to associate professor of chemistry and continues to hold that position today.

Contributions to the Field: De Villiers's research interests include fundamental studies that push the boundaries of the chemical characterization of complex mixtures using state-of-the-art techniques such as multidimensional liquid chromatography (LC) and gas chromatography (GC) combined with mass spectrometry (MS), and the application of these methods, primarily to natural product analysis. He has published 50 papers in peer-reviewed journals, and his papers have been cited 925 times — quite an accomplishment for such a young scientist!

Figure 1: Pat Sandra with his former coworkers in April 2008 in Stellenbosch, South Africa. From left to right: Pat Sandra, Frédéric Lynen, Andreas Tredoux, André de Villiers, Deirdre Cabooter, and Martina Sandra.
Sandra, who is now an emeritus professor with the Research Institute for Chromatography and was de Villiers's professor and thesis supervisor at Stellenbosch, feels that de Villiers's greatest contribution to the field of separation science so far is his work developing new LC methods and techniques, including comprehensive LC×LC for the analysis of natural products, such as South African wines.

Lauer agrees, citing "his endeavour to understand and nail down the complexity of molecules that define the colour, taste, and bitterness of South African wines with all the available separation techniques he could lay his hands on".

Figure 2: De Villiers at Cape Point, South Africa.
Tadeusz Górecki, a professor at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, said he values de Villiers's contributions to the area of multidimensional LC "from his early work with Isabelle François to his recent foray into hydrophilic interaction reversed-phase LC×LC". Górecki also mentioned that de Villiers's more theoretical work, such as his papers on kinetic optimization of LC separations, are also of high quality.

Emily Hilder, a professor of chemistry and director of the ARC Training Centre for Portable Analytical Separation Technologies at the University of Tasmania (as well as the 2012 LCGC Emerging Leader in Chromatography award winner), agreed with Górecki's thoughts on de Villiers's contributions in multidimensional LC. "His work has demonstrated how 2D LC can be applied to the analysis of very complex samples from natural products (wine, food, and so on)," said Hilder. "Such practical applications of this technology are what is needed to guide future developments."

Table 1: Winners of the LCGC Awards.
Scientific Accolades: De Villiers has received a number of awards from the separation science community, including the 2009 Csaba Horváth Memorial Award from the International Symposium on High-Performance Liquid Phase Separations and Related Techniques (HPLC) and the 2012 Chromatographer of the Year award from the Chromatographic Society of South Africa. He has also been invited to deliver lectures at prestigious international conferences, such as HPLC and the International Symposium on Hyphenated Techniques in Chromatography.