Farewell to "Milestones in Chromatography"

Farewell to "Milestones in Chromatography"

Published on: 

LCGC North America

LCGC North America, LCGC North America-04-01-2008, Volume 26, Issue 4
Pages: 370–374

After nearly 10 years of writing "Milestones in Chromatography," resident historian Leslie Ettre will step down from his position as an LCGC columnist.

I started to study the history of the evolution of chromatography in the 1970s. However, at that time it was rather a hobby. In 1979, I edited (with Al Zlatkis' help) the compilation 75 Years of Chromatography — a Historical Dialogue (1), with the life stories of three scores of prominent chromatographers. It was a particular pleasure to work on it, after all, I knew each contributor personally. However, my main occupation at that time was still the study of various aspects of chromatography and travel to various countries, lecturing on the newest developments. I started to deal more intensively with historical aspects around the end of the 1980s, particularly after I officially retired as a senior scientist at Perkin-Elmer and joined Yale University's Chemical Engineering Department as an adjunct professor. Soon I had some discussions with Jeffrey Schier, then the editor of LCGC, with the idea to establish a new column about various questions related to the evolution of chromatography. We agreed that I would periodically contribute such articles; however, I was reluctant to commit myself on a regular, scheduled basis. After all, I was not young anymore.

Leslie S. Ettre

In my proposal to Jeff I emphasized that "recently, historical aspects have been often presented distorted. This is partly due to the fact that the present generation did not go through the evolution like my colleagues and I did, and thus, it is ignorant of any literature more than 2–3 years old." Thus, my aim was to "set the record straight," clear up many misconceptions and give the proper credit to the pioneers of our technique.

We selected the title "Milestones in Chromatography" for my column. By chance, the start of this series coincided with the 50-year anniversary of the Pittsburgh Conference, and for this occasion LCGC planned a special issue, to which I already had agreed to contribute. This article, published in the February 1999 issue, was actually considered as the first installment of the column, but officially we launched the "Milestones" column in the June 1999 issue, with Jeff's editorial and a discussion of two chromatography conferences, one organized in 1946 by the New York Academy of Sciences, and the other organized in 1949 in London, by the (British) Faraday Society. These two symposia served as a kind of springboard for future development: without them the growth of chromatography would probably have advanced at a slower pace.

From there on, I regularly contributed installments to this column, between three and five each year. These truly dealt with the "milestones" of chromatography development. I have discussed some early developments resembling chromatographic separation (even Moses enacted such wonders during his wandering in the wilderness!), then the circumstances that led M.S. Tswett 100 years ago to the discovery of chromatography. The column installments also dealt with the work of the pioneers who significantly contributed to the development, with the meteoric rise of the use of the technique starting in the 1930s, and with the development of the variants of chromatography. The column also discussed major instrument development and summarized the impact of a few key symposia reporting on the newest results, showing the way for future expansion. In the eight years I had a total of 35 installments in the "Milestones in Chromatography" column and these are listed in the table.

It was great fun to write these columns: to search old publications and interview those who have been involved in the pioneering work. A number of times I could secure the co-authorship of colleagues who were more familiar with the particular subject than I, and in four cases, the column was actually written by an expert in that field. I would like to use this opportunity to thank them for their help. I also was very happy to receive comments from my readers who, years earlier, actually had been involved in the reported investigations: reading and answering their letters was like a nostalgic trip to the past.

As mentioned, originally I was reluctant to make a commitment for a longer period, but then things went smoothly. However, as the German proverb says, "Alles gutes kommt zu ende" (everything good must end). On September 16, 2007, I passed my 85th year and this is a good occasion to say farewell to my readers: the "Milestones" column published in the January 2008 issue is my last. This does not necessarily mean that from now on, I will sit in a rocking chair, observing the shades on the ceiling, and hope that periodically, on the occasion of a major anniversary, I can contribute to our magazine. I am also finishing the manuscript of a book dealing with the history of the evolution of chromatography (2), discussing for our young colleagues the unique period when everything we did was new and interesting. This will hopefully be published this summer. I believe it was Winston Churchill who once said that those who do not know history will repeat its mistakes. By providing a more-or-less objective history, I will try to point out not only our achievements but also our errors.

I hope that eventually some member of the present generation will pick up my pen and summarize the background of the newest developments. Don't forget that by then the present will be the past of the future: what you are doing today will be history for the next generation.

Leslie S. Ettre After a 30-year association with the Perkin-Elmer Corporation, Dr. Ettre had been a member of Yale University's Chemical Engineering Department as an adjunct professor and then as a research fellow until 2004. He is a member of LCGC's editorial advisory board. Direct correspondence about this column to "Milestones in Chromatography," LCGC, Woodbridge Corporate Plaza, 485 Route One South, Building F, First Floor, Iselin, NJ 08830, e-mail lcgcedit@lcgcmag.com or directly to Dr. Ettre at LSEttre@att.net


(1) L.S. Ettre and A. Zlatkis (Eds.), 75 Years of Chromatography; a Historical Dialogue (Elsevier, Amsterdam, 1979).

(2) L.S. Ettre, Chapters in the Evolution of Chromatography, J.V. Hinshaw, Ed. (Imperial College Press, London – Singapore, 2008).

Installments in the "Milestones in Chromatography" Column 1999–2007

Pittsburgh Conferences — a Personal Appraisal

Leslie S. Ettre

LCGC 17(2), 156–168 (1999).

The 1949 Chromatography Conference of the Faraday Society

Leslie S. Ettre

LCGC 17(6), 524–531 (1999).

Development of Gas Chromatography Instruments at Shimadzu

Yutaka Nagayanagi, Shingo Takimoto, and Hisashi Saito

LCGC 17(10), 930–937 (1999).

Preparative Liquid Chromatography and the Manhattan Project

Leslie S. Ettre

LCGC 17(12), 1104–1109 (1999).

Gadgetry for Gas Chromatography

Leslie S. Ettre

LCGC 18(4), 392–404 (2000).

Two Symposia, When HPLC Was Young: the 1969 Las Vegas and the 1973 Interlaken Symposia

Leslie S. Ettre and Veronika R. Meyer


LCGC 18(7), 704–714 (2000).

A.A. Zhukhovitskii — A Russian Pioneer of Gas Chromatography

Leslie S. Ettre and Victor G. Berezkin

LCGC 18(11), 1148–1155 (2000).

Evolution of Capillary Columns for Gas Chromatography

Leslie S. Ettre

LCGC 19(1), 48–59 (2001).

The Birth of Partition Chromatography

Leslie S. Ettre

LCGC 19(5), 506–512 (2001).

The Story of Thin-Layer Chromatography

Leslie S. Ettre and Huba KalE1sz

LCGC 19(7), 712–721 (2001).

The Invention, Development, and Triumph of the Flame Ionization Detector

Leslie S. Ettre

LCGC 20(1), 48–60 (2002).

Fifty Years of Gas Chromatography — The Pioneers I Knew; Part I

Leslie S. Ettre

LCGC 20(2), 128–140 (2002).

Fifty Years of Gas Chromatography — The Pioneers I Knew; Part II

Leslie S. Ettre

LCGC 20(5), 452–463 (2002).

The JanE1k-Type Gas Chromatographs of the 1950s

Leslie S. Ettre

LCGC 20(9), 866–874 (2002).

The Beginnings of Headspace Analysis

Leslie S. Ettre

LCGC 20(12), 1120–1129 (2002).

Two Early, Influential Symposia in the Development of Gas Chromatography

Leslie S. Ettre

LCGC 21(2), 144–149 (2003).

M.S. Tswett and the Invention of Chromatography

Leslie S. Ettre

LCGC 21(5), 458–467 (2003).

The Beginnings of Gas Chromatography and Early Symposia Held in the United States

Leslie S. Ettre

LCGC 21(9), 900–908 (2003).

The Evolution of the Application of Gas Chromatography

Leslie S. Ettre

LCGC 22(1), 42–51 (2004).

Forerunners of Chromatography: Runge's Self-Grown Pictures

Heinz H. Bussemas and Leslie S. Ettre

LCGC 22(3), 262–270 (2004).

More Speed, Better Precision, Higher Sensitivity: Why Buy a New Gas Chromatograph?

Werner Engewald and Leslie S. Ettre

LCGC 22(5), 452–455 (2004).

The Evolution of Capillary Gel Electrophoresis: From Proteins to DNA Sequencing

Andras Guttman

LCGC 22(9), 896–904 (2004).

Fifty Years of GC Instrumentation

Leslie S. Ettre

LCGC 23(2), 142–148 (2005).

Csaba HorvE1th and the Development of the First Modern High Performance Liquid Chromatograph

Leslie S. Ettre

LCGC 23(5), 486–495 (2005).

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

Leslie S. Ettre

LCGC 23(8), 752–761 (2005).

Early Petroleum Chromatographers

Leslie S. Ettre

LCGC 23(12), 1274–1280 (2005).

Chromatography and the Cold War

Leslie S. Ettre

LCGC 24(1), 54–56 (2006).

The Development of the Amino Acid Analyzer

Leslie S. Ettre and Charles W. Gehrke

LCGC 24(4), 390–400 (2006).

The Centenary of "Chromatography"

Leslie S. Ettre

LCGC 24(7), 680–692 (2006).

Early International Symposia on Chromatography (50-Year Anniversary of The Chromatography Society)

E.T. Adlard

LCGC 24(10), 1102–1117 (2006).

Was Moses the First Chromatographer? Chromatography in the Ancient World

Leslie S. Ettre

LCGC 24(12), 1280–1283 (2006).

The Saga of the Electron-Capture Detector

Peter J.T. Morris and Leslie S. Ettre

LCGC 25(2), 164–178 (2007).

Emanuel Gil-Av and the Separation of Enantiomers on Chiral Stationary Phases by Chromatography

Volker Schurig

LCGC 25(4), 382–395 (2007).

The Rebirth of Chromatography 75 Years Ago

Leslie S. Ettre

LCGC 25(7), 640–655 (2007).

The Beginnings of Gas Adsorption Chromatography 60 Years Ago

Leslie S. Ettre

LCGC 26(1), 48–60 (2008).