A.J.P. Martin, C.B.E., F.R.S. (1910 - 2002)


A.J.P. (Archer John Porter) Martin had, since a schoolboy, been interested in the chemical engineering of distillation. As an undergraduate at Cambridge, he had been fascinated by countercurrent separation and plate theory. After graduation, he started work on his Ph.D. and took on the task of isolating vitamin E.

In 1933, Dr A. Winterstein from Kuhn’s laboratory in Heidelberg visited Cambridge and demonstrated a chromatogram of a crude carotene solution on a column of powdered chalk (liquid-solid chromatography). Martin was intrigued to see the relationship between the chromatogram and distillation columns, since there was relative movement of the two phases and the existence of a number of theoretical plates in the system gave rise to good separation. He tried separating carotenes by distribution between two phases using separating funnels but soon found how inefficient the system was. Martin therefore turned his approach to devising countercurrent distribution machines. He soon managed to get about eight theoretical plates with 10 feet of tubing but realized it was quite useful for isolating a single substance but not for resolving complex mixtures. After much thought, he realized that a continuous extraction system with injection of the mixture into the centre of the column liquid with the flow rates of the two immiscible liquids adjusted to equal the reciprocal of the partition coefficient of the substances to be isolated would be desirable. He then constructed an all-glass apparatus (with ninety ball valves) that gave an effective 200-foot continuous column. Using this he was able to separate vitamin E into several distinct fractions, the first time this had ever been done (like much of his work, this was never written up or published).

The above biographical note was supplied by A.T. James

Note by the editor - Martin moved from the Dunn Nutritional Laboratory in 1938 to the Wool Industries Research Association in Leeds. From 1946 to 1948, he headed the Biochemistry Division of the Research Department of Boots Pure Drug Company at Nottingham before joining the staff of the Medical Research Council at the Lister Institute and subsequently at the National Institute for Medical Research. He was eventually made Head of the Division of Physical Chemistry at the Institute. In 1959, he became a Director of Abbotsbury Laboratories Ltd.

Martin and R.L.M. Synge were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1952 for development of paper partition chromatography, a quick and economical analytical technique permitting extensive advances in chemical, medical, and biological research (Further details here). Amongst other Honours, Martin, was made a Fellow of the Royal Society (1950) and a Companion of the British Empire in 1960. He also received the Berzelius Medal of the Swedish Medical Society (1951), the John Scott Award (1958), the John Price Wetherill Medal (1959), the Franklin Institute Medal (1959), and the Leverhulme Medal (1963). As James recounts, he was extraordinarily reluctant to publish his work, and indeed the University of Houston dropped him from its chemistry faculty for this reason in 1979. James Lovelock has provided a moving obituary.