Professor Walter Goodrich Jennings: A Remembrance


LCGC Europe eNews

LCGC Europe eNewsLCGC Europe eNews-08-10-2012
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We note here the passing of pioneering American gas chromatographer Walter G. Jennings on 5 July 2012. Walt, as he preferred, died peacefully at home surrounded by family. He was 90 years old.

We note here the passing of pioneeringAmerican gas chromatographerWalter G. Jenningson 5 July 2012. Walt, as he preferred, diedpeacefully at home surrounded by family.He was 90 years old.

Walt was known as a tireless researcher,innovator, entrepreneur and teacher who,while at the University of California atDavis and throughout his long career, wasa strong advocate of gas chromatography(GC) and its utility as a practical tool forsolving many problems in a wide range ofscientific areas. Although his academic andbusiness accomplishments are significant,he is best known for the relationships hemade with the scientists and colleagues hetouched as a teacher, collaborator and mentorwho supported investigators with hisexperience, thought provoking instruction,helpful advice and encouragement.

Walt was born on 2 March 1922, inSioux City, Iowa, USA, and spent his formativeyouth in Glendale, California. From 1940to 1942, Walt was on a survey crew forthe Union Pacific railroad, often travelingby mule across the unforgiving terrain insouthern Nevada, California and Arizona.In 1942, world events set in motion acourse that defined the remainder of Walt’slife. He served with decorated distinctionin combat from 1943 to 1945 in the USArmy in Europe. Upon returning home toGlendale, he followed the advice of relativeswho owned a family dairy in southernCalifornia and used the GI Bill to financean education in dairy science.

The educational path that led Walt toUC Davis turned into a 38-year academiccareer that went from undergraduate student to emeritus professor, with a bachelor’sdegree in 1950, a master’s degree in 1952and a PhD in 1954. His initial areas ofresearch were in chemical sanitation efficiencyand kinetics associated with foodprocessing equipment, but Walt’s interestin flavour chemistry became a driving forceto develop new technologies to unravel thechemical composition of flavour. He quicklycame to understand the role that GC couldplay in this research, and his team successfullyidentified the critical flavour componentsin the Bartlett pear, which was asignificant accomplishment in 1965. Withsupport from the US Department of Agriculture,he built the first GC system at theuniversity in 1955. At that time, discoveryand innovation in GC became as importantto him as his work in flavour. Over thenext 20 years there was a continuous stringof innovations, including developmentsin carbon dioxide extraction, inlet linertechnology, ferrule technology and columnand phase technology. During a visit toEurope in the late 1960s, Walt was exposedto glass capillary chromatography and heinstantly realized its potential. On his wayhome from Europe he made a side tripto purchase and bring home one of KlausHupe’s earliest glass-drawing machines.Immediately, his team in Davis begandrawing tubing and developing excellencein capillary GC and column making. Capillarycolumns were in great demand fromforward-thinking chromatographers andthe columns from Walt’s Davis lab weremuch sought after in the US. In 1974,Walt and a graduating student, Rob Wohleb,founded J&W Scientific, manufacturingcapillary GC columns from a garage.The company became quite successful andbegan innovating in the field of columntechnology, developing chemically bondedstationary phases, improving deactivationand developing a range of phases that arethe standards in the industry today. At thetime of its sale to Agilent Technologies in2001, J&W Scientific was the world’s leadingmanufacturer of capillary GC columnsand employed more than 150 people at itslocation in Folsom, California, USA.

Walt was a productive researcher withmore than 200 publications in the GCfield including eight books and severalbook chapters. His books Gas Chromatographywith Glass Capillary Columns(Academic Press, 1978) and Analytical GasChromatography (Academic Press, 1997)are considered classics in the field. He andhis students made significant contributionsin flavour chemistry, coupling capillary GCand mass spectrometry, selectivity tuningin capillary columns by phase blending,computer modeling of optimum and practicalgas velocities, and the achievement ofultrahigh resolution (2,000,000 theoreticalplates at 4000 plates per second!) withrecycle chromatography.

Walt also became a highly sought afterlecturer in this new field. To the consternationof the university, his schedule was veryfull as he traveled around the world givinglectures on the advantages and practicalaspects of capillary GC. Walt often deliveredmore than 30 lectures and workshopsa year at leading chemical companies,symposia, research centres and universities.He enjoyed these activities immensely,and his lecture style and enthusiasm for thefield captivated audiences of analytical scientists.Walt continued lecturing, albeit at areduced pace, well into his eighties.

In his career, Walt was recognized withmany awards for his contributions in GC.Notable among these were The HumboldtFellowship from the Alexander von HumboldtFoundation in 1973, The FoundersAward in Gas Chromatography from theBeckman Foundation, The M.J.E. GolayAward from the International Symposiumon Capillary Chromatography in 1996,the Keene P. Dimick Award from the PittsburghConference in 1997, the A.J.P. MartinGold Medal from the ChromatographicSociety in 1997, and the 2008 LifetimeAchievement Award from LCGC.

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