Chromatography Icon Harold McNair Dies

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Harold McNair, PhD, an icon of chromatography, died peacefully at his home in Blacksburg, Virginia, on Sunday, June 27, 2021. He was 88 years old.

Born in the small copper mining town of Miami, Arizona, in 1933, McNair received both a tennis and an academic scholarship to attend the University of Arizona where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa, Magna Cum Laude with a degree in chemistry. He went on to receive masters and doctoral degrees in chemistry from Purdue University. On a Fulbright Postdoctoral Fellowship in Eindhoven, Netherlands, met and married his wife and partner of 55 years, Marijke Koopmans.

After several years in the private sector, McNair settled in Blacksburg, Virginia, in 1968 where he took an associate professor position with the chemistry department at Virginia Tech University. His research interests were gas chromatography, liquid chromatography, and ultratrace analysis of organic compounds in air, soil, water, and food. He was widely recognized as a leading expert on the detection and identification of bomb residue. McNair actively consulted for many industries as well as for many US federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).


When he retired in 2002, Harold had served as department chair, published eight books, 150 technical papers, directed the thesis work of more than 60 graduate students, and supervised more than 50 post-doctoral fellows and visiting professors. His book, Basic Gas Chromatography, was first published in 1964 is still in publication today.

McNair received numerous national and international awards for both teaching and research. He was the second winner of the LCGC Lifetime Achievement Award, which he received in 2009, and was named a Fellow of the American Chemical Society in 2017. In a 2012 LCGC interview, he modestly said that his greatest achievement was collaborating with his students and visiting professors.

McNaire enjoyed traveling, American history, watching football and basketball games, and helping people with their analytical chemistry challenges. He was an enthusiastic tennis player well into his 80s.